Non-specific symptoms in women may confuse ovarian cancer message
Public education about ovarian cancer needs to be carefully designed to avoid GPs being swamped by the worried well, research suggests.
In an Australian study of 2200 healthy women, aged 18 to 70 years, two out of three participants experienced symptoms typical of ovarian cancer.
Half the women experienced abdominal bloating in the last 12 months, 37% had abdominal pain, 30% had increased abdominal size and 29% had pelvic pain.
While a third experienced no such symptoms, 19% experienced two symptoms, and 13% experienced three symptoms.
Lead author Professor Marian Pitts, from the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, said the symptoms were individually very common but were even more indicative of cancer in combination.
Public health messages should be refined to make it more likely the right women were targeted, rather than the worried well, she said.
Professor Michael Quinn, director of oncology/dysplasia at Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital, said symptom persistence was the key to identifying ovarian cancer.
“We say persistence is three weeks or more. That’s the time women need to talk to their doctors,” he said.
He said women over 50 were more likely to have ovarian cancer but warned symptoms should not be ignored in younger women.
Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol 2011; 51:71–78