New ways to detect ovarian cancer early

December 8, 2009 7:29:34 AM PST
Some 15,000 women will die of ovarian cancer this year and almost 22,000 women will be diagnosed with it. Ovarian cancer is deadly because there isn't a good screening test and there are few early symptoms, but there may be some new ways a woman can help detect ovarian cancer early.

"I did not know the symptoms and what they meant," said Suzanne Linker.

However, Linker knew that things weren't right.

"A fullness and weight gain, especially around the waist. That was the very first sign," Linker said.

Her clothes stopped fitting and though her family didn't notice, last year she was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer.

"We used to think there were no early warning signs at all of ovarian cancer, but what we saw was that many women had the same history that months and months would go by with similar symptoms," said Dr. Jubilee Brown of M.D. Anderson.

Dr. Brown says women should watch for a group of symptoms that might signal early ovarian cancer:

  • Bloated abdomen
  • Persistent stomach discomfort/feeling full
  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Urination frequency
  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lower back pain

Dr. Brown says to "be aware of your own body. If you notice symptoms, be persistent and be your own advocate."

M.D. Anderson experts say women at risk are those with the following:

  • Family history of ovarian or breast cancer
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Never been pregnant or had infertility problems
  • Those with BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • Those at risk for colon cancer

"There are genetic counselors who can put that all together and determine if testing would be appropriate," said Dr. Brown.

There are more treatment options and with off and on again treatment, some women are living with ovarian cancer for eight and 10 years.

"Be very aware of your body changes because only you can be an advocate," said Linker.

Doctors admit that nausea, bloating, stomach upset and weight gain are vague symptoms, but oncologists say women should pay attention. If that continues for several weeks, and you believe something is wrong, go to your doctor and ask to be checked for ovarian cancer. Be persistent. Being alert to changes in your body could mean the difference in life and death.

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