From Our 2007 Archives

Ovarian Cancer : 4 Early Symptoms

Cancer Organizations Issue Statement on What Women Should Watch For

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

June 13, 2007 -- Ovarian cancer symptoms may start early, and three cancer organizations today issued a joint statement telling women what to watch out for.

Ovarian cancer is the most deadly cancer of the female reproductive system. Its high death rate is partly due to the lack of early detection and screening tests.

The new statement -- issued by the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, Society of Gynecologic Oncologists, and American Cancer Society -- could help women note ovarian cancer's possible early warning symptoms and seek help swiftly.

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

According to the statement, the following symptoms are much more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than in women in the general population:

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

"Women who have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks should see their doctor, preferably a gynecologist," the organizations state.

The organizations note that "women with ovarian cancer report that symptoms are persistent and represent a change from normal for their bodies" and that several studies have highlighted these symptoms even in the early stages of ovarian cancer.

However, those symptoms don't always indicate ovarian cancer. Only doctors can diagnose ovarian cancer.

About Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer in U.S. women, with about 22,430 new cases and 15,280 deaths expected this year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The consensus statement was based on work by researchers including Barbara Goff, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at the University of Washington.

"This agreement on common symptoms of ovarian cancer hopefully will lead to earlier diagnosis when a cure is more likely," Goff says in a Gynecologic Cancer Foundation news release.

"We know that when women are diagnosed in stage I of the disease, it is 90% curable," Goff notes, adding that "unfortunately, until now there has been no agreement on common symptoms, allowing women to go undiagnosed, despite visits to the doctor, until it was too late."

WebMD interviewed Goff in December 2006, when Goff and colleagues published an article in the journal Cancer on the early warning symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Goff told WebMD that the possible symptoms she and her colleagues identified -- which are in line with the symptoms noted by the three cancer organizations -- are "very common symptoms that everyone has from time to time."

"The purpose is not to scare women and make everyone think they have ovarian cancer," Goff told WebMD. "It is to alert women and their physicians that there may be cause for concern if these symptoms come on quickly and occur with frequency."

SOURCES: News release, Gynecologic Cancer Foundation. National Cancer Institute: "A Snapshot of Ovarian Cancer." American Cancer Society: "How Many Women Get Ovarian Cancer?" WebMD Health News: "Symptom List Helps ID Ovarian Cancer."

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