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.
To address this, in 2007, three major cancer organizations -- the American Cancer Society, the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation and the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists -- released a consensus statement that included a constellation of symptoms women and their doctors should be aware of, including swelling of the stomach or bloating, pelvic pressure or stomach pain and trouble eating.
Rossing and her colleagues interviewed 812 women aged 35 to 74 who had epithelial ovarian cancer, the most common type of ovarian cancer, about their symptoms during the year leading up to diagnosis and compared them to 1,313 who didn't have cancer.
Women who were diagnosed with cancer were 10 times more likely to experience the symptoms than women without cancer, according to the study. Among patients with early-stage disease, about 27 percent experienced the symptoms for at least five months before diagnosis.
Yet the symptoms aren't much use in identifying cases of ovarian cancer in the general population because in 99 out of 100 cases, a women with the symptoms would not have ovarian cancer, Rossing said.
"We need to understand more about the benefits and risks for women who receive evaluations for ovarian cancer because of these symptoms," Rossing said. "Risks may include the worry and expense of unnecessary testing, ultrasound and even unnecessary surgery."
Last year, 21,550 new cases of ovarian cancer were diagnosed among U.S. women; 14,600 deaths were attributed to the disease.
In the absence of more precise screening techniques, Tenenbaum said women and their doctors should be aware of possible signs of ovarian cancer, and women should not hesitate to see their do
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