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Study Reveals Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

While ovarian cancer can be highly treatable when detected in the early stages, many women are diagnosed with late stages of the disease because ovarian cancer has been thought to not have known symptoms. However, a new study finds that common symptoms are associated with ovarian cancer. These include pelvic pain, abdominal bloating, and urinary urgency, among others. While many women diagnosed with ovarian cancer do not exhibit these symptoms, the researchers say their study shows that importance of screening those that do experience them.

Ovarian cancer screening has not been recommended for the vast majority of women because ovarian cancer has been thought to not have distinct symptoms. To study possible symptoms of the disease, researchers from the University of Washington had women with and without ovarian cancer complete a survey that asked about certain symptoms such as indigestion, constipation, bleeding after menopause, and back pain.

The study results showed that the women with ovarian cancer were more likely to report one or more of the 6 symptoms on the survey. Moreover, the women often experienced the symptom(s) 12 or more times per month.

The symptoms are:

  • pelvic or abdominal pain
  • abdominal bloating
  • urinary urgency (needing to get to a bathroom immediately)
  • urinary frequency (having to urinate often)
  • feeling full
  • difficulty eating

Having these symptoms does not mean that a woman has ovarian cancer, but according to the researchers, it is important for women to be aware of these symptoms and to see their doctors if they persist so that they can be screened. These symptoms are often associated with other, more common conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome. The researchers say that more commonly associated problems should be ruled out first.

Women with symptoms of ovarian cancer should have full screenings, according to the American Cancer Society. These screenings include a full physical and a gynecological exam that includes pelvic and rectal exams. In addition, all women should undergo pelvic exams every year beginning at age 18. Other tests that may be used to diagnose ovarian cancer include ultrasound, a blood test that measures the level of a tumor marker called CA-125, x-rays of the lower colon and rectum, CT scan, or MRI scan. A biopsy (tissue sampling) is usually performed if a tumor is found to determine whether it is cancerous.

Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be about 22,430 new cases of ovarian cancer in the United States in 2007. About 15,280 women will die this year from the disease. If ovarian cancer is detected in early stages before it has spread past the ovary, the American Cancer Society estimates that nine out of ten women will live at least five years with the disease. However, only 25% of ovarian cancer cases are detected in early stages. The researchers believe a list of symptoms may help in the early detection of the disease.

Additional Resources and References

  • The study, "Development of an ovarian cancer symptom index," was published in the December 11, 2006 issue of Cancer,
  • To learn more about ovarian cancer, please visit