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Three questions help spot ovarian cancer

Quick primary care screening identifies women who need further tests

Louise Prime

Monday, 24 September 2012

A simple two-minute survey used routinely in primary care can reliably identify women who have symptoms that indicate they need further investigation for ovarian caner, research has shown. The study, published online in the Open Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that no-one who tested negative developed ovarian cancer in the following year.

Researchers asked 1200 women aged 40-87 who were attending a women’s health clinic in Seattle, US, to complete a quick pencil-and-paper survey. Roughly half of the women were attending for a current health concern or for follow-up of a health problem reported at an earlier visit, and half for routine appointments such as mammography screening.

The survey asked the women whether or not they had experienced three symptoms that are known to be potentially indicative of ovarian cancer: abdominal and/or pelvic pain, feeling full quickly and/or unable to eat normally, and abdominal bloating and/or increased abdomen size. Women were also asked on how many days a month they had had these symptoms, and for how long.

Of the 5% of women who had a positive symptom score that indicated a need for further testing, one was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. None of the 95% of women who tested negative on the symptom survey developed ovarian cancer during the following 12 months.

The study’s authors point out that early detection is key to survival of ovarian cancer – the cure rate is 70-90% when cancer is confined to the ovary, compared with a survival rate of only 20-30% for the 70% of women who are diagnosed with advanced stage disease. They say: “Symptoms such as pelvic pain and abdominal bloating may be a sign of ovarian cancer but they also can be caused by other conditions. What’s important is to determine whether they are current, of recent onset and occur frequently.

“Women with symptoms that are frequent, continual and new to them in the past year should talk to their doctor, as they may be candidates for further evaluation with ultrasound and blood tests that measure markers of ovarian cancer such as CA-125 … approximately one in 140 women with symptoms may have ovarian cancer. Aggressive follow-up of these symptoms can lead to diagnosis when ovarian cancer can be caught earlier and more effectively treated.”

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