Three questions help ID risk for ovarian cancer

By Shayna Brouker • Published: January 17th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Blood tests and ultrasound imaging can cause undue alarm and unnecessary surgery when it comes to detecting ovarian cancer. Most women would rather be safe than sorry, after all. But researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington say three questions could pinpoint real risk.

Their study of more than twelve-hundred women, published in the Open Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that a simple 90-second questionnaire can narrow down who really needs treatment. The questionnaire asked women whether they felt abdominal or pelvic pain, felt full quickly or were unable to eat normally, or whether they experienced abdominal bloating or increased abdominal size.

Only about one in 20 women reported one or more of these symptoms. But because 57 percent of women with early-stage ovarian cancer and 80 percent of women with advanced ovarian cancer have such symptoms, they may be considered at higher risk. What’s tricky about ovarian cancer is that these symptoms mimic conditions like fibroids and irritable bowel syndrome.

Researchers noted that women who have had these symptoms for more than a year most likely don’t have ovarian cancer. But if symptoms have been frequent for a few weeks or months, it’s a good idea to pay a visit to the doctor. Ovarian cancer can be deadly in later stages.

Some other seemingly normal symptoms can signal cancer, such as unexplained weight loss, changes in the breast or blood in the urine or stool. Difficulty swallowing and indigestion might be linked to cancer of the mouth, throat or stomach. Fever, fatigue and chronic pain should be checked out, too. No need to be a nervous Nelly, but it’s better to play it safe when it comes to many symptoms.