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Ovarian Cancer Health Center

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Symptoms Warn of Ovarian Cancer

Symptoms + Blood Test Can Detect Early Ovarian Cancers

Ovarian Cancer: Symptoms to Look For continued...

So what are these warning signs? Andersen says there are three basic symptoms:

Normal women experience all of these symptoms from time to time. But if any of these symptoms started recently -- within the last year -- and if it's struck nearly every day for several weeks, it may signal ovarian cancer. Indeed, only 2% of women report recent, frequent onset of these symptoms.

"This isn't something that's been going on since a woman was 18," Andersen says. "This is something new happening to a woman's body."

Women identified as high risk by symptom index or CA125 testing would likely undergo transvaginal ultrasound to look for abnormal growths on their ovaries. Such growths are not uncommon, and the ultrasound test itself is not an appropriate test for ovarian cancer except in women with family histories or genetic backgrounds that put them at especially high risk.

"But if ultrasound is used in the group of women already selected because of symptoms or CA125 or both, then we might identify which women are the right ones to go to surgery," Andersen says. "We want to use transvaginal ultrasound to identify the false-positives among women who did report symptoms, so those who don't have ovarian cancer would not go to surgery."

Unfortunately, there's only one sure way for doctors to know if a woman has ovarian cancer: surgery.

"It is not trivial to open up the abdomen and check," Smith says.

That's why there's an intense effort under way to find a reliable way to detect cancer of the ovaries. Until that day comes, the symptoms index plus CA125 screening may be the best way to identify women who may have ovarian cancer.

"Even with this specific pattern of symptoms, most women who have them probably don't have ovarian cancer -- just as most women who find a lump in their breast don't have breast cancer," Andersen says. "It is time to get it checked out, but it is still not likely to be ovarian cancer."

Andersen, Goff, and colleagues report their findings in the Aug. 1 issue of the journal Cancer.

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