By Jenny Song
Recognizing the Signs of a Silent Killer
A consensus statement outlines ovarian cancer symptoms
By Jenny Song
If you’re a woman, feeling bloated, getting full quickly, experiencing abdominal pain or having urinary frequency or urgency may seem absolutely normal. For those who are pre-menopausal, some of these symptoms even act as monthly reminders that our ovaries are in working order.
But the symptoms can also be clues that help in the detection of ovarian cancer, so women experiencing them persistently for several weeks should see their doctors. That’s according to a consensus statement released in June by the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation (GCF), the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists and the American Cancer Society (ACS). More than 35 other patient organizations have endorsed the statement, in the hopes that physicians and patients will put aside the idea that ovarian cancer is a silent killer.
The official announcement that ovarian cancer has symptoms, however, only confirms what many survivors and oncologists in the field have already suspected.
“For those of us who treat [ovarian cancer] patients, if you do a history, most women have had symptoms … for some period of time before their diagnosis,” says Deborah Armstrong, a medical oncologist at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
More than 14 years ago, Patricia Goldman experienced symptoms, like bloating, for several weeks. Months later, an ultrasound showed a mass in her ovary; she was diagnosed with stage IIA ovarian cancer. “Even at an early stage, I had the bloating, the gastric problems and the urinary urgency,” Goldman says.
But until recently, there were few studies supporting that such symptoms were more commonly associated with ovarian cancer patients than with the general public, says Ronald Alvarez, a gynecologic oncologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the advocacy chair of the GCF’s executive committee.
The consensus statement points to several ovarian cancer studies from the last seven years. One report published in the January Cancer by gynecologic oncologist Barbara Goff, at the University of Washington in Seattle, and her colleagues showed that ovarian cancer patients were more likely to report certain symptoms, up to 30 times a month, compared with women in the general population. The same study also recommended that a woman who reported the symptoms of abdominal pain, feeling full quickly or bloating more than 12 times a month for less than a year should be evaluated for ovarian cancer.