A simple three-question paper-and-pencil survey, given to women in the doctor's office in less than two minutes, can effectively identify those who are experiencing symptoms that may indicate ovarian cancer, according to a study by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The study represents the first evaluation of an ovarian cancer symptom-screening tool in a primary care setting among normal-risk women as part of their routine medical-history assessment. The results are published online in the Open Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Early detection of ovarian cancer is key to survival. Cure rates for those diagnosed when the disease is confined to the ovary are approximately 70 percent to 90 percent. However, more than 70 percent of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed with advanced-stage disease, when the survival rate is only 20 percent to 30 percent.
The researchers evaluated the effectiveness and feasibility of several different symptom screening surveys. After a few tweaks to formatting and content, the version that proved most effective contained three questions that asked whether a woman was currently experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, all of which have been identified previously as potentially indicative of ovarian cancer:
- Abdominal and/or pelvic pain
- Feeling full quickly and/or unable to eat normally
- Abdominal bloating and/or increased abdomen size
The survey also asked about the frequency and duration of these symptoms: how many days a month and for how long?
"Symptoms such as pelvic pain and abdominal bloating may be a sign of ovarian cancer but they also can be caused by other conditions. What's important is to determine whether they are current, of recent onset and occur frequently," said lead author M. Robyn Andersen, Ph.D., a member of the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division. Previous research by Andersen and colleagues has found that about 60 percent of women with early-stage ovarian cancer and 80 percent of women with advanced disease report symptoms that follow this distinctive pattern at the time of diagnosis.
"Women with symptoms that are frequent, continual and new to them in the past year should talk to their doctor, as they may be candidates for further evaluation with ultrasound and blood tests that measure markers of ovarian cancer such as CA-125," she said. "Recent research indicates that approximately one in 140 women with symptoms may have ovarian cancer. Aggressive follow-up of these symptoms can lead to diagnosis when ovarian cancer can be caught earlier and more effectively treated."