Nothing silent about the way ovarian cancer kills

A new study by Australian scientists has revealed that far from being a silent killer, most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer had one or two unusual and persistent symptoms before they were diagnosed.

The research dispels the common belief that ovarian cancer has few symptoms until it is in the advanced stages of the disease, by which time the prognosis is usually poor.

According to Dr. Helen Zorbas ovarian cancer is far from being a silent killer as 83% of women have at least one symptom before being diagnosed.

Dr. Zorbas from the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer centre, says the most common symptoms are abdominal fullness and pain.

The new study 'Ovarian Cancer Not A 'Silent Killer' by the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre, was carried out in collaboration with the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, and it looked at the experiences of 1,500 Australian women prior to their diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

The preliminary findings clearly demonstrate that women need to be aware of the symptoms of the disease as most of the women experienced at least one symptom of ovarian cancer in the year prior to their diagnosis.

The study also revealed 17% of women waited more than three months after the onset of their symptoms before visiting their doctor and another with 8% waited more than six months.

Dr. Zorbas says the most common reason for the delay was an assumption that the symptoms were not serious, with many women attributing them to another medical condition or the natural process of ageing.

Dr. Zorbas says as there is no screening test for ovarian cancer, the first step to diagnosis is a woman identifying symptoms which are persistent and unusual for her and seeking medical attention and she says it is vital that women are aware of the symptoms to look out for.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • abdominal bloating.
  • abdominal or back pain
  • appetite loss or feeling full quickly
  • changes in toilet habits
  • unexplained weight loss or gain
  • indigestion or heartburn
  • fatigue

The most common symptoms, experienced by half of the study participants, were abdominal symptoms such as fullness and pain and bloating, and bowel or urinary symptoms were reported by approximately one third of participants.

Dr. Zorbas says it is known that many women will experience these symptoms as part of everyday life, but if any are unusual and persist, it is important to see a doctor.

In Australia alone this year as many as 1,300 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer - more than half of women diagnosed with the disease do not survive five years after their diagnosis because most are diagnosed at an advanced stage, where the cancer has spread and is very difficult to treat successfully.

The National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre is funded by the Australian Government and works with consumers, health professionals, cancer organisations, researchers and governments to improve care and cancer control in breast and ovarian cancer.

The Queensland Institute of Medical Research coordinates the Epidemiology core of the Australian Ovarian Cancer Study, a collaborative research programme between clinicians, scientists, patients and advocacy groups aimed at improving the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of ovarian cancer.

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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