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Symptoms Are A Poor Screening Tool For Ovarian Cancer

Thanks to Toni Brayer for pointing out this new study on ovarian cancer symptoms published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

This study confirms previous studies which found that ovarian cancer, long thought to be a silent disease in its early stages, does indeed have symptoms. The problem is that those symptoms – bloating, urinary frequency, pelvic pain, early satiety – are common, non-specific and, according to this new study, 99% of the time not due to an underlying ovarian cancer.

That’s good news, of course, for women with these symptoms. But bad news for those hoping for a means of early detection for ovarian cancer, since early symptom recognition is neither sensitive nor specific enough to be useful as a screening test on a population basis.

This is extremely important for women to understand. Each new screening test gets over-hyped and sets women up with unrealistic expectations about just what it is we docs can do to diagnose this disease. (The latest hope comes from a study that found elevated serum markers in women with ovarian cancer up to three years before their cancer was diagnosed. Unfortunately, the test were not useful in discriminating normals from abnormals until shortly before diagnosis.)

I don’t know if the results of this new symptom screening study will lead to changes in the current recommendations for ovarian cancer screening, so for now I will just reiterate them here -
If you have any of the following symptoms almost daily for more than a few week and these symptoms represent a change from normal for you, see your doctor, preferably a gynecologist.

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Urinary urgency or frequency
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly

Prompt medical evaluation may lead to detection at the earliest possible stage of the disease. Remember, though, that these symptoms are almost always caused by something other than ovarian cancer.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had a pill to prevent ovarian cancer?
Wait a minute – we already do! It’s call the Birth Control Pill. _______________________________________________
Those ovarian cancer awareness wristbands up there are sold to raise funds for the Lynne Cohen Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation. The Susan Komen Foundation sells them too. The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund has a whole store!

More info on ovarian cancer screening from The National Cancer Institute.

*This blog post was originally published at The Blog that Ate Manhattan*

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