Being aware of symptoms can help women get diagnosed sooner. Early stage diagnosis is associated with an improved prognosis.

Symptoms and Detection of Ovarian Cancer

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

For years, women have known that ovarian cancer was not the silent killer it was said to be. Over the past decade, science has confirmed what women have long known: ovarian cancer has symptoms.

Women with ovarian cancer report that symptoms are persistent and represent a change from normal for their bodies. The frequency and/or number of such symptoms are key factors in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Several studies show that even early stage ovarian cancer can produce these symptoms.

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

See your doctor, preferably a gynecologist, if you have these symptoms more than 12 times during the course of one month and the symptoms are new or unusual for you.In 2007, the Alliance and other leading cancer organizations endorsed a consensus statement on ovarian cancer symptoms.

As medical research continues to investigate this important issue, numerous studies have been published indicating that symptoms may not occur until late stage or that they may not improve health outcomes.  The Alliance believes that symptoms are important, but they are not a definitive diagnostic tool.  Since there is no diagnostic tool for ovarian cancer, symptom awareness remains of key importance.  Being aware of symptoms can help women get diagnosed sooner. Early stage diagnosis is associated with an improved prognosis.

Other Symptoms Associated with Ovarian Cancer

Several other symptoms have been commonly reported by women with ovarian cancer. These symptoms include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities. However, 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.

Detection
EARLY DETECTION

Early detection of ovarian cancer saves women’s lives. No screening test exists that can test all women for ovarian cancer. The Pap test does not test for ovarian cancer; it screens for cervical cancer.

Not only do researchers need to develop an early detection test for ovarian cancer, like mammograms for breast cancer and Pap tests for cervical cancer, women and medical professionals also need to become more aware of ovarian cancer symptoms.

While no reliable early detection tool exists for all women, several tests exist for women who are at a high risk. If a woman has ovarian cancer symptoms, a strong family history or a genetic predisposition such as a BRCA mutation, doctors may monitor her with one of three tests or a combination of them:

Blood Test

  • The protein CA-125 exists in greater concentration in cancerous cells. Though a high count of this protein may help doctors identify ovarian cancer, premenopausal women can have an elevated CA-125 due to benign conditions unrelated to ovarian cancer. Uterine fibroids, liver disease, inflammation of the fallopian tubes, and other types of cancer can raise a woman’s CA-125 level, often causing a false positive test for ovarian cancer.
  • Although the CA-125 blood test is more accurate in postmenopausal women, it is not a reliable early detection test for ovarian cancer. In about 20 percent of advanced stage ovarian cancer cases and 50 percent of early stage cases, the CA-125 is not elevated even though ovarian cancer is present. As a result, doctors generally use the CA-125 blood test in combination with a transvaginal ultrasound.
  • The CA-125 blood test can be an important tool for evaluating the disease’s progress and tumors’ response to treatment. Additionally, this test can monitor a woman’s CA-125 level for evidence of recurrence.
  • OVA1 has also been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for risk stratification. A woman who presents with a known tumor may have this test to determine if her surgery should be done by a gynecologist or a gynecologic oncologist – doctors who are specially trained to treat women with gynecologic cancers.

Transvaginal Ultrasound

  • A transvaginal ultrasound is a test used to examine a woman’s reproductive organs and bladder.
  • To administer the test, the doctor inserts a probe into the woman’s vagina. The probe sends off sound waves which reflect off body structures. The waves are then received by a computer that turns them into a picture.

Pelvic Exam

  • A pelvic exam may be included as part of a woman’s regular female health exam.
  • This exam requires the doctor to place one or two fingers into a woman’s vagina and another over her abdomen to feel the size, shape, and position of the ovaries and uterus.
  • Ovarian cancer is rarely detected in a pelvic exam and usually in an advanced stage if it is.

DIAGNOSIS

If a woman has the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, her doctor will probably perform a complete pelvic exam, a transvaginal or pelvic ultrasound, and a CA-125 blood test. Used individually, these tests are not definitive; they are most effective when used in combination with each other. Doctors may also use a CT scan or PET scan as part of the diagnostic process. The only definitive way to determine if a patient has ovarian cancer is through surgery and biopsy.