Ovarian cancer is not often detected until it reaches advanced stages. Survival significantly improves if the cancer is detected early. Unfortunately, methods for the early detection of ovarian cancer are lacking. The location of the ovaries makes physical examination an ineffective mean of detection, and screening techniques such as CA125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound are costly and often inaccurate. Ovarian Cancer Research Program award recipients at Duke University are studying the value of symptom recognition as an important way to detect ovarian cancer. Symptoms of ovarian cancer often resemble those of other common diseases and include abdominal discomfort, increased urinary urgency or frequency, and irregular menstrual bleeding. A recent study conducted by investigators at Duke University and their colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh confirmed the importance for a greater awareness of symptoms by both patients and physicians. The study evaluated 767 women between the ages of 20 and 69 diagnosed with invasive (n=616) and borderline (n=151) epithelial ovarian tumors from 1994 to 1998. Epidemiological characteristics of patients with either tumor type are similar. The primary goal of this study was to compare types and duration of symptoms prior to diagnosis of invasive or borderline ovarian tumor. Patients with either type of tumor reported similar symptoms. However, patients with borderline tumors were less likely to report symptoms. Patients with borderline tumors also had symptoms for a longer time prior to diagnosis. Borderline cases were more likely to be detected through a routine exam while invasive cases were more likely to be diagnosed because of symptoms. The most dramatic conclusion from this study was that women eventually diagnosed with ovarian cancer had symptoms for 4 months prior to the diagnosis. This study emphasizes the need for more effective screening and prevention strategies aimed at increasing awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms.
Vine MF, Ness R, Calingaert B, Schlidkraut JM, and Berchuck A. 2001. Types and duration of symptoms prior to diagnosis of invasive or borderline ovarian tumor. Gynecologic Oncology 83:166-471