Abdominal swelling, pain, and other symptoms are common in the months before Ovarian cancer is diagnosed, new research shows.
“Some patients with Ovarian cancer do report symptoms many months before their ultimate diagnosis, and some ovarian cancer patients could have had an earlier diagnosis if pelvic imaging was included in their workup,” Dr. Lloyd H. Smith told Reuters Health.
Ovarian cancer is generally thought of as a silent disease, because it doesn’t cause severe symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage. The new findings suggest that it might give rise to certain complaints at an earlier stage.
Smith, from the University of California at Davis, Sacramento, and his colleagues used data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program and from Medicare claims for California women who developed Ovarian cancer to investigate whether symptoms preceded a diagnosis of Ovarian cancer and whether an earlier clinical diagnosis is possible in patients with Ovarian cancer.
Data for 1985 women with Ovarian cancer, 10,941 with breast cancer and 6024 “control” subjects without cancer were included in the analysis, according to the team’s report in the medical journal Cancer.
Abdominal swelling and pain were significantly more common six months prior to diagnosis in the women with ovarian cancer than among women in the noncancer and breast cancer groups, the researchers report.
One to three months before diagnosis, gastrointestinal symptoms and pelvic pain were also more common among women diagnosed with Ovarian cancer than among women in the two control groups.
“Our findings suggest that Ovarian cancer could be diagnosed earlier in some patients whose diagnosis currently is delayed by at least 4 months, because physicians order abdominal imaging or perform gastrointestinal procedures before they order a test that is more likely to diagnose Ovarian cancer,” the authors conclude.
“If routine medical evaluation fails to explain the symptoms and they persist, then testing for ovarian cancer should be considered,” Smith concluded. Of course, he added, “As is true for many diagnostic tests in the setting of symptom evaluation, many patients may have a negative test.”
SOURCE: Cancer, early release August 22, 2005.
Revision date: July 4, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD