To date, ovarian cancer has been difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are so vague. As a result, many women are only diagnosed with the disease in its most advanced stages. But a new study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) confirms that checking for common symptoms, combined with a CA125 blood test, can increase early detection rates by as much as 20 percent.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer include abdominal or pelvic pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and abdominal bloating. Canada’s National Ovarian Cancer Association also lists changes in bowel function, unexplained weight gain, nausea and infertility or menstruation changes as possible signals. They advocate asking your healthcare professional for the CA-125 blood test if you have any of these symptoms. (Read 10 Things Every Woman Should Know.)
FHCRC researchers concluded that combining a symptom questionnaire with the blood test raised early-detection rates to 80 percent and late-stage detection rates to 95 percent. (Survival rates for those with stage-one ovarian cancer is 70 percent, but only 20 to 30 percent in those with late-stage.) Vaginal ultrasound is another screening option.
I have a family history of pelvic cancers, but when I asked my doctor about the CA-125, she dismissed my request. Next time, I’ll be taking this study with me.