New research from the Cancer Research Center in Seattle shows that women with ovarian cancer are much more likely than healthy women to report symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and feeling full quickly after eating. This is especially true if the symptoms are relatively new and persistent.
While ovarian cancer is fairly rare, the symptoms are relatively common and possibly explained by less serious conditions. Thus medical experts note that the ability to predict who has cancer based on symptoms alone is limited.
Researchers found that for every 100 women in the general population whose symptoms matched those in a widely accepted ovarian cancer symptom index, only one would actually have early-stage ovarian cancer.
According to the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance, the disease strikes about one in 72 women. Last year, 21,550 new cases of ovarian cancer were diagnosed among U.S. women; 14,600 deaths were attributed to the disease.
The study is published in the Jan. 28 online issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute notes that finding ways to detect early-stage ovarian cancer is an ongoing challenge.
Ovarian cancer sometimes is found during a pelvic exam, but tumors are often too deep within the body for doctors to detect. In addition, the symptoms of ovarian cancer are often missed or misdiagnosed as other less serious conditions, including menopause, lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome or even depression.
While nine of 10 women whose ovarian cancer is caught early are alive five years after diagnosis, only about 20 percent of ovarian cancers are found at their early stage, according to the American Cancer Society.
According to the study findings, women who were diagnosed with cancer were 10 times more likely to experience the symptoms than women without cancer. Among patients with early-stage disease, about 27 percent experienced the symptoms for at least five months before diagnosis.