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Consensus Statement Released on Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

In June 2007, the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists, and American Cancer Society released the first-ever consensus statement on symptoms of ovarian cancer. The statement provides an agreement on symptoms commonly associated with ovarian cancer. Those symptoms include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency). Women who experience one or more of these symptoms on a persist basis should contact their physicians for follow up.

"This agreement on common symptoms of ovarian cancer hopefully will lead to earlier diagnosis when a cure is more likely," said Dr. Barbara Goff, a gynecologic oncologist at the University of Washington. "We know that when women are diagnosed in Stage I of the disease, it is 90% curable. Unfortunately, until now there has been no agreement on common symptoms, allowing women to go undiagnosed, despite visits to the doctor, until it was too late."

Goff's study, which was published in the journal, Cancer, 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

In May 2007, the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation conducted a poll to determine how best to make women aware of this new consensus regarding ovarian cancer symptoms. According to the foundation, the poll revealed that while women agree that it is important to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer, 65% said that they do not know enough about the disease. Over 90% of the women polled said that they get their most valuable health information from friends or family, and their personal experience with a disease. Advertising was also mentioned as an effective means of communication.

According to the consensus statement, women who experience symptoms commonly associated with ovarian cancer, including bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency) almost daily for more than a few weeks should see their doctor, preferably a gynecologist. Prompt medical evaluation may lead to detection at the earliest possible stage of the disease. Early stage diagnosis is associated with an improved prognosis.

The statement also lists other symptoms associated with ovarian cancer. These include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities. However, according to the statement, these other symptoms are not as useful in identifying ovarian cancer because they are also found in equal frequency in women in the general population who do not have ovarian cancer.

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.

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