Symptom List Helps ID Ovarian Cancer
Researchers Say Awareness of 6 Symptoms Could Help Identify Women at Risk
Dec. 11, 2006 -- Ovarian cancer is
often considered a "silent killer" with no readily identifiable
symptoms, but new research challenges this view in the hopes of finding more of
the deadly malignancies early.
Because there is no effective screening test to identify early-stage ovarian
cancer, roughly three out
of four patients are diagnosed with late-stage disease, when the chance for a
cure is greatly diminished.
Many patients are misdiagnosed before their cancer is found, with vague
symptoms such as pelvic pain and abdominal bloating attributed to other
In their latest study, researchers at the University of Washington School of
Medicine identified the six symptoms most closely associated with ovarian
cancer by comparing the clinical histories of women with the disease to those
of high-risk women without cancer.
The most common complaints among the cancer patients included:
- pelvic pain
- abdominal pain
- increased abdominal size
- abdominal bloating
- difficulty eating
- feeling full quickly
When any of these symptoms had been present for less than a year and
occurred more than 12 days a month, they were considered independently
predictive of ovarian cancer risk.
"These are very common symptoms that everyone has from time to
time," researcher Barbara Goff, MD, tells WebMD. "The purpose is not to
scare women and make everyone think they have ovarian cancer. It is to alert
women and their physicians that there may be cause for concern if these
symptoms come on quickly and occur with frequency."
Potential Screening Tool
Five-year survival rates among women with advanced ovarian cancer
range from 20% to 30%, but women diagnosed when their cancer is still confined
to the ovary have a 70% to 90% survival rate.
Goff and colleagues developed a symptom index, based on their latest
research, which they hope will prove to be a useful screening tool for ovarian
They found that having any of the six symptoms for less than a year and more
than 12 days per month was helpful to identify women at risk.
The research is published in the Jan. 15, 2007, issue of the journal
"This is not a perfect screening tool, and it is not going to be the
solution to the early diagnosis of ovarian cancer," Goff says. "But it
is certainly a step in the right direction. It is something that we can use to
help women right now in 2006."
Misdiagnosis Is Common
While other researchers are working to develop a more sensitive screening
test for early-stage ovarian cancer, all agree that such a test is years
Ovarian cancer survivor Sherry Salway Black tells WebMD that greater
awareness of symptoms is critical because patients who have early-stage disease
are still routinely misdiagnosed.
"Many women end up seeing gastroenterologists who often diagnose
irritable bowel," she says.