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Ovarian Cancer - Early Detection

Early detection of ovarian cancer remains a challenge, even in this age of remarkable medical advancements. Ovarian cancer typically causes no symptoms in its early stages; when symptoms do occur, they are often vague and attributed to other, more common conditions. And, unfortunately, no simple and reliable screening test exists for early detection of ovarian cancer.

Because of this, ovarian cancer is often not diagnosed until it is at an advanced stage and more difficult to treat, says Dr. Randall Hightower, a gynecologic oncologist at Washington Regional Gynecologic Oncology Clinic. “The symptoms associated with ovarian cancer can be very vague. These vague symptoms can be associated with other medical conditions such as indigestion,” he says.

Cancer of the ovaries — part of the female reproductive system — can cause these symptoms:

  • New and persistent bloating
  • Pelvic pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Difficulty with eating or feeling full very soon when eating
  • Urinary frequency and urgency

Dr. Hightower encourages women to look for these subtle signs. If they persist for more than two or three weeks, they should be reported to your health care provider right away. “Even though they’re vague, and we see them in a lot of different other conditions, they need to be investigated,” he says.

Prompt attention to these symptoms may improve the odds of early diagnosis and successful treatment, Dr. Hightower says. Diagnosis may include a physical examination as well as tests such as ultrasound, CT, MRI or a pet scan.

“Oftentimes women don’t think of ovarian cancer as their problem and look for a different answer,” Dr. Hightower says, recalling a patient who noticed her clothes suddenly weren’t fitting. The patient’s first thought was that she was gaining weight. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

“Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancer and the fifth most common cause of death in U.S. women.” Dr. Hightower says. “Only when we investigate these early symptoms can we catch ovarian cancer at an earlier stage. Then, proper treatment with surgery and chemotherapy can improve survival. We know that.”

For more information contact the Washington Regional Gynecologic Oncology Clinic or ask your health care provider for a referral.