A Simple Survey Could Determine Your Risk for Ovarian Cancer

Written by yvonnethornton on October 8th, 2012

As women, we have to go through countless medical tests throughout our lives. Mammograms, pregnancy tests, HIV tests, and bone-mineral density tests are all par for the course when you become an adult. In fact, few women haven’t gotten all of these tests and more. Don’t get me wrong- as a physician, I genuinely appreciate our ability to screen for life-threatening conditions, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, as a woman, I understand the patient side of it as well.  Wouldn’t it be easier if medical screening tests were simpler? According to a new study, simplicity might just be attainable.

Researchers have developed a new screening tool for ovarian cancer that can be completed in minutes by a simple survey. That’s right, no heavy machinery, foul-tasting chemicals, or drafty hospital gowns required, just a simple pen and paper.  The study questionnaire that was tested was based on a symptom-screening index developed in 2006 by M. Robyn Andersen, Ph.D and co-author Barbara Goff, M.D., professor and director of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.   The survey asks women three questions about their current symptoms that have been most commonly associated with women that screened positive for ovarian cancer. A few of the symptoms might be passed off as menopause or menstruation symptoms, so the key in early diagnoses is recognizing the symptoms as they are happening. Some of these symptoms include abdominal or pelvic pain, a sensation of feeling full too quickly, and abdominal bloating. You have to admit, you’d never attribute any of these symptoms to cancer.

Traditionally, ovarian cancer is thought to have no early warning signs, such as bleeding or an abnormal Pap smear, as one sees in uterine cancer or cervical cancer, respectively.  In comparison to breast cancer, which is the most frequent cancer in women, with about 212,000 new cases a year, ovarian cancer has only 25,000 new cases a year. But, because there are no early warning signs or tests to detect ovarian cancer, and the cancer has progressed to a more advanced stage prior to diagnosis, the death rate is higher—about 62 percent in ovarian cancer, as opposed to 18 percent in breast cancer and 32 percent in cervical cancer.  With that said, this new study takes into consideration symptoms, which are commonly dismissed by many patients and by combining them together, have proven to be significant factor in trying to diagnose ovarian cancer at an earlier stage.

Of course, these symptoms are minor and can easily be associated with other issues. However, the results are proving the survey effective so far. Of 60 women who submitted the survey with positive indication, one was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Of the 1,140 women who did not claim to have the symptoms, none tested positive for ovarian cancer over the course of the following year.


The survey will also serve as a research tool for doctors. Women who take the short survey and indicate that they have all of the symptoms will also be asked to write any additional symptoms. If those women screen positive for ovarian cancer, those additional symptoms will be analyzed, and common additional symptoms might be added to the survey to further screen patients.

Early detection is extremely important in treating ovarian cancer.  If you have these symptoms, talk to your physician about ovarian cancer to rule out the possibility that you might have it. If he or she thinks you should get tested, do so, as it could save your life.

 – Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.


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