Three-Question Screen For Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer symptom survey may be effective screening tool

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. There are several symptoms that all women need to be aware of. Ask yourself about certain symptoms, and see your doctor if you need to.

A three-question survey that asks about symptoms women are having may be effective in detecting early signs of ovarian cancer – abdominal and/or pelvic pain; abdominal bloating; feeling full quickly.

Early detection of ovarian cancer is the key to beating it.

"Tell your doctor about pains or bloating in the abdomen."

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center evaluated various surveys in a primary care office. Each of the surveys asked about various symptoms that could relate to ovarian cancer.

"Symptoms such as pelvic pain and abdominal bloating may be a sign of ovarian cancer, but they also can be caused by other conditions. What's important is to determine whether they are current, of recent onset and occur frequently," said lead author M. Robyn Andersen, PhD, a member of the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division.

When this cancer is caught early - when it’s still only in the ovary – about 80 percent of women can be successfully treated.

Diagnosed at a later stage, ovarian cancer is tough to overcome. Only about one if four women beats advanced ovarian cancer. Sadly, more than 70 percent of the 22,300 American women who learn they have this cancer are diagnosed with advanced disease.

Researchers worked with 1,200 women who were being seen for routine concerns in a women’s health clinic in Seattle. The ladies were between 40 and 87 years, and more than half were postmenopausal. Several surveys were tested with these women.

The most effective version asked the women if they were currently having one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pain in the abdomen and/or pelvis
  • Bloating or change in the size of the abdomen
  • Feeling full after eating very little and/or other eating problems

The women were asked how often they had experienced these symptoms and how long they lasted.

Now, ask yourself these questions. If you're feeling these things, go see your doctor.

About 60 (5 percent) of the women surveyed reported having these symptoms, and one was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

None of the rest of the 95 percent of women who reported no symptoms went on to develop the disease in the next year. This suggests that the survey was an accurate assessment tool.

"If ovarian cancer screening using symptoms is widely adopted, maximizing the specificity of screening programs will be important," the authors wrote.

"Until better biomarkers are identified and tested, collecting information about symptoms appears to have promise."

The questionnaire used in the study was based on a screen developed in 2006 by Dr. Andersen and co-author Barbara Goff, MD, professor and director of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Findings from this study were published in September in the Open Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

This research was funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 23, 2012
Last Updated:
September 25, 2012