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Ovarian Cancer Health Center

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Ovarian Cancer: Signs Can Be Vague

Women Need Pelvic Exam as Part of Diagnosis and as Soon as Symptoms Appear

Doctors: Check for Ovarian Cancer

Ira Horowitz, MD, vice chairman and director of gynecologic oncology at Emory University's Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta, offers his opinion. Such vague symptoms are frustrating for doctors, since so many women without cancer have them, he points out.

"We all have vague abdominal pains," he tells WebMD. "Now that I'm getting older, these symptoms sound like me -- and I don't even have ovaries!"

Bottom-line message: "I have always told my patients, you know your body... when your body tells you something's wrong, see a doctor," Horowitz tells WebMD. "You need to really impress upon doctors the importance of the symptoms. Too often we ascribe it to everything else -- irritable bowel, incontinence, fibroids. But we need to consider ovarian cancer first, not last. We need to do a pelvic exam."

Horowitz often sees patients "who have been through the mill," he says. "They have been to physician after physician with these vague symptoms, this pain. And it's deplorable that some have never had a pelvic exam. They show up at the gastrointestinal (GI) doctor, the family doctor, end up getting a barium enema, an upper GI series, a colonoscopy, then they finally get a CAT scan and someone picks up the ovarian cancer."

When a woman has abdominal discomfort, the first thing a doctor should do is a pelvic exam, then test the stool for blood, then an ultrasound, he says. "This isn't screening. This is somebody who is symptomatic, who has a problem. We need to be assertive."

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