Oh, Great: Ovarian Cancer Symptoms Poor Disease Predictors

February 4, 2010 at 8:44 PM (WTF) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Mr. Wonderful forwarded an article to me today – he’s good like that. Anyway, there was a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that says that symptoms are of little help in predicting whether a woman has ovarian cancer. That is, out of 100 women with classic ovarian cancer symptoms (bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain, bowel changes or frequent urination), only one woman may actually end up presenting with the disease.

“The low positive predictive value of symptoms to detect ovarian cancer—particularly at an early stage—argues for a cautious approach to the use of symptom patterns to trigger extensive medical evaluation for ovarian cancer,” the authors write.

I read this news as very similar to that brouhaha about mammograms from last year: why bother testing, since it’s not going to come out positive? Not cost-effective, ladies; please hit the bricks. Yes, the editorial accompanying the study results highlights how great it is to discover that in fact all the women who have ovarian cancer do present with symptoms; and yes, they do say that this study’s results highlights the need for more effective markers and predictive testing for ovarian cancer.

But with the state of health-care today (quick shout-out to Scott Brown: hey!), don’t you just envision the suits over at Major Health “Care” Conglomerate, Inc. licking their lips and checking off another reason to deny a CA-125 or ultrasound or laparoscopy? More importantly, it’s hard enough for many women to get a doctor to believe that there’s something really wrong when they complain of any of these classic symptoms – I’ve read too many horror stories about doctors diagnosing stress, esophageal reflux, constipation, and prescribing some Ambien and Prilosec and sending the woman on her way with a pat on the head, like Cindy-Lou Who. If this gets out, how much harder will it be to impress upon someone the seriousness of the situation?

And finally, perhaps the most frustrating part of this study is that, even with such “classic” symptoms for ovarian cancer, experienced by nearly EVERY woman who has the disease, early- or late-stage, THEY’RE SO POORLY PUBLICIZED. I’m a pretty well educated woman, I know how to take really good care of my body; why did I have no idea about the symptoms of ovarian cancer? There should be a poster up in every OB/GYN’s office waiting area and another one in the exam room, so while you’re waiting an hour and a half for your appointment you can read and re-read and memorize the symptoms and maybe have a chance at identifying them while you’re still save-able.

That’d be way more useful than an eighteen-months old copy of Good Housekeeping.

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  1. Beth Dunn said,

    You were a hit today!

  2. Catherine Jacobs said,

    Amen sister! Why in the world would you deny people testing that might give FALSE POSITIVES!!! I mean, I know why, but that is just shameless. Honestly.

  3. Beth Dunn said,

    Thank you for being a part of my blog! You inspired a ton of people as you do me. xoxo

  4. Amy Hofmann said,


    Well said! I know I had absolutely NO idea what the symptoms of ovarian cancer might be until you were diagnosed. How many BFFs need to get diagnosed with late stage cancer before all women know what to look for?

    So many of us are so busy being super women that I can totally see why such “innocuous” symptoms get ignored as life marches on . . . as does the cancer.

  5. Dee said,

    I found your blog through one of your postings on the OCNA support group site. I am an OC survivor first diagnosed in 2005 , recurred in 2008 and I am now back in remission.

    I agree with your observation about the recent symptom study. My sister passed away from breast cancer so I was very in tune to doing breast self-exam , and having my annual mammograms. OC was not on my radar, At the time I thought my symptoms were menopause.I like your idea about a poster for OB/GYN offices.

    I once went to a GCF conference in NY and a doctor told us if you have symptoms go to a doctor and tell him/her to prove to you it is NOT ovarian cancer.

    I’ll hope it is ok that I post a link to your blog on mine.

    Stay well

  6. sandhy said,

    I didn’t have all the symptoms – just a bloated tummy and I did have horrendously heavy periods – but I’d always had those, so assumed it was ‘cos I was getting older [what WAS I thinking??]

    Also, I ‘assumed’ that the smear test was a sort of catch all for gynea cancers…er, not! I have hundreds of those leaflets – they are going through doors in March. Ovarian Cancer Awareness month in the UK. We will knock, and explain them to any woman we can get our hands on.

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