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Ovarian Cancer Health Center

Can Symptoms Predict Ovarian Cancer?

Study Shows Only 1 in 100 Women With Symptoms Are Later Diagnosed With Ovarian Cancer
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Predicting Ovarian Cancer

In most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the symptoms surfaced about five months or less before the diagnosis. Those diagnosed with early-stage cancers were more likely to report nausea than those diagnosed with late-stage cancers.

Then they computed the chance that a woman with a specific symptom has the cancer. Overall, it ranged from 0.6% to 1.1%. But it was less than 0.5% for the early-stage cancers.

Rossing's team concludes that 100 women with symptoms suggestive of ovarian cancer need to be evaluated to detect one with ovarian cancer.

"This [study] again tell us there are symptoms, but don't rely on them to make a diagnosis," says Karlan. The findings do point to a need, she tells WebMD, to develop a true screening test for ovarian cancer.

In recent years, women have become more aware of symptoms suggestive of ovarian cancer and the need to be checked out, Karlan and others say. That's largely due to a consensus statement issued in 2007 by the American Cancer Society and others, noting that certain symptoms (such as bloating, pelvic pain, or abdominal pain) are more likely to be present in women with ovarian cancer.

''I think this study says symptoms occur in ovarian cancer even in early stages," Karlan says. But, she adds, "it makes the point that even the symptoms themselves are not necessarily going to lead to diagnosing it at an earlier stage."

The take-home message, Karlan says, is that when women have these symptoms, they need to discuss them with their doctor and decide what type of medical testing should be done. Among tests that can be ordered are CT scans, MRIs, and ultrasound.

Karen Orloff Kaplan, CEO of the advocacy group the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, says she doesn't find the study results discouraging. "What it is saying is, ovarian cancer is a rather rare occurrence," she tells WebMD. "If you [have] 100 women [with symptoms suggestive of the cancer], only one will have it. It's not saying the other 99 were missed."

She says the study findings also point to the need for women to pay attention to symptoms suggestive of ovarian cancer while bearing in mind that the symptoms will likely not lead to a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

About 21,550 women in the U.S. were expected to learn they have ovarian cancer in 2009, according to the American Cancer Society, and about 14,600 were expected to die from it.

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