There were 21,880 new cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2010 and it is the 5th leading cause of cancer death among women. Women are understandably afraid of ovarian cancer because there are usually no early warning symptoms and when discovered, the disease is often advanced, difficult to treat and highly lethal. A large and well run study, reported at the American Society of clinical Oncology 2011 Annual Meeting showed no advantage for screening for ovarian cancer in women.
We are so used to having screening tests to detect early cancer (prostate, breast, cervical, colorectal) that women expect screening for ovarian cancer also. This trial has shown that screening by vaginal ultrasound and CA 125 blood test were ineffective for finding early tumors of the ovary. Women screened annually and followed up for 13 years died in similar numbers from ovarian cancer as women who were not screened. Additionally, the diagnostic follow up of false-positive screening results was dangerous and fraught with complications.
These discouraging findings point to the rapid progression of ovarian tumors. Ovarian cancer screening did not reduce deaths among average-risk women.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague but women and their physicians should be aware of them:
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- pelvic pain
- abdominal bloating and pressure
- urinary urgency
- back pain
New and persistent symptoms should not be ignored. Women with a family history of ovarian and breast cancer need to be especially vigilant and genetic testing can be performed to assess the risk and give important information to women about their risk.
A few other tidbits for women to know. Oral contraceptives do not increase the risk of ovarian cancer and in fact, the use of birth control pills may confer a 40-50% reduction advantage for women. Low fat diets and exercise may also help prevent ovarian cancer by keeping body mass index (BMI) under 25.
Women who have children before age 30 and breast feed also have less ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cysts are common in menstruating women and they are not associated with ovarian cancer.
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Over 50% of all ovarian cancers occur in women older than age 65.
For past EverythingHealth post on ovarian cancer and fertility drugs go here.