Abdominal pain and swelling can be early symptoms of ovarian cancer. But they are often attributed to other causes, potentially delaying an earlier diagnosis of the disease when it could be treated more effectively, a new study finds.
After reviewing the medical records of nearly 20,000 women, researchers found that as early as 12 months before diagnosis, women with ovarian cancer were twice as likely as women without the disease to report these symptoms to their doctors. But they were initially treated for stomach problems rather than given tests for the cancer.
“This study lends support to the idea that some women are having symptoms before diagnosis [of ovarian cancer] and could possibly have an earlier diagnosis if appropriate tests were offered earlier,” said study author Dr. Lloyd H. Smith, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Davis.
“Having these symptoms is very unlikely to mean ovarian cancer,” Smith added, because the symptoms are common and ovarian cancer is rare. But if the symptoms can’t at first be attributed to another cause, it would be wise for a doctor to recommend that a woman be administered pelvic imaging and a serum test, called CA125, that can indicate ovarian cancer, he said.
Ovarian cancer is a fast-growing cancer, progressing from early to advanced disease in as little as a year. While the rate of ovarian cancer has declined since 1991, it is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women. Approximately 22,000 cases will be diagnosed this year, and 16,210 women will die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.