Ovarian cancer symptoms a poor guide to the need for treatment, study shows

Jan. 30--"Use of symptoms to trigger medical evaluation for ovarian cancer is likely to result in diagnosis of the disease in only one of 100 women in the general population with such symptoms."

This is the conclusion of a study in which the number of positive ovarian cancer diagnoses were compared the number of women who showed signs of the disease but did not have ovarian cancer.

In an article posted to the Web site of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle determined that only daily nausea reliably indicated the likely presence of ovarian cancer. No other typical symptoms of the disease--pelvic pain, abdominal pain, bloating and feeling full, and feeling the need to urinate frequently and urgently--occurred often or consistently enough to serve as guides for fuller assessments of the presence of ovarian cancer.

Early detection of ovarian cancer is essential because the disease spreads rapidly and has a high mortality rate, as the following table shows. Across the United States, fewer than 50 percent of women who develop ovarian live for five years following their diagnosis. Catching the cancer while it is still confined to the ovaries, however, can raise a woman's chance for long-term survival to higher than 90 percent.

Ovarian Cancer Cases and Deaths in Tidewater During 2007CityCasesDeathsChesapeake4137Hampton3426Norfolk5342Portsmouth6018Virginia Beach60383

Source: Virginia Department of Health

Stating the obvious, the authors of an editorial accompanying the article describing the unreliability of symptomatic diagnoses of ovarian cancer wrote that the study findings "highlight the urgent need to develop better molecular markers and improved imaging modalities for ovarian cancer screening."