Symptoms & Screening in Ovarian Cancer
Unlike in breast cancer, there are no reliable screening tests or exams to detect ovarian cancer early in women of average risk with no symptoms. (There’s no mammogram equivalent.) Per the United States Preventive Services Taskforce (USPSTF), any benefit to screening these women for ovarian cancer with diagnostic tools are outweighed by the harms, including potential false-positive results as well as unnecessary testing and diagnostic surgery.
In studies where transvaginal ultrasound, a diagnostic tool, was used to screen for ovarian cancer, most of the masses turned out not to be cancer upon further examination. Research measuring the level of CA-125 (a protein) in the blood — albeit a valuable test for helping guide treatment in ovarian cancer patients — hasn’t yet been found to be an effective screening method for asymptomatic women either.
High CA-125 levels in the absence of other symptoms is more often indicative of common conditions such as endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease than a sign of the presence of cancer.
Further, there’s been no “adequate evidence” that
screening with ultrasounds or CA-125 tests reduce ovarian cancer mortality. [These screening tests may, however, be recommended for women who are at high risk for ovarian cancer, such as those with BRCA gene mutations. Doctors may also discuss preventive surgeries to remove the ovaries and Fallopian tubes for these patients.]
Gynecologic oncologist Angeles Alvarez Secord, MD, MHS, emphasizes that it’s important for women to be aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Secord advises that while these cancers frequently cause non-specific symptoms that can be hard to identify, women should seek prompt medical attention if any of these common symptoms (bloating; pelvic and/or abdominal pain; feeling full quickly, upset stomach, or trouble eating; having to urinate frequently; extreme tiredness; difficulty having bowel movements; and abdominal swelling) last more than a few weeks.
*This feature on symptoms and screening was originally published as a sidebar with this article on the DCI blog: UnTEAL There’s A Cure, Have Faith in the Fight
Tune in, Learn More!
(held in conjunction with the Virtual Gail Parkins Memorial Ovarian Cancer Walk & 5K Run)
9:30 a.m. Andrew Berchuck, MD, Director, Duke Division of Gynecologic Oncology
Topic: Ovarian cancer screening, prevention and genetic testing.
10 a.m. Angeles Secord, MD, Director, Duke Gynecologic Cancer Clinical Trials
Topic: Use of PARP inhibitor drugs in treatment of ovarian cancer.
Via Zoom. [Zoom details will be provided to all registrants. For those who are not registered and wished to see the speakers' talks, we hope to make a recording available to the public a few days after the event.]