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For the first time, cancer experts are advising women of certain symptoms that might alert them to ovarian cancer, a disease that is hard to spot early and one of the deadliest cancers.
Suddenly experiencing weeks of bloating, the need to frequently urinate, eating changes and abdominal or pelvic pain all can be early signs of ovarian cancer, according to several groups of cancer experts.
The American Cancer Society and other groups released a consensus statement Wednesday listing the symptoms. Historically, doctors have believed there are no early symptoms of ovarian cancer, which is expected to kill about 15,000 women in the United States this year. There is no screening test for the condition; regular pelvic examinations are considered the main ways to detect the cancer early.
''Unfortunately, until now there has been no agreement on common symptoms, allowing women to go undiagnosed, despite visits to the doctor, until it was too late,'' said Dr. Barbara Goff, a University of Washington gynecologic oncologist, in a prepared statement.
The Cancer Society put together the consensus statement along with the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation and the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists.
The experts say women should see their doctor if they suffer, for at least three weeks, one or more of these symptoms daily:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Frequent or urgent urination
But the guidelines are problematic, said Debbie Saslow, the cancer society's director of breast and gynecologic cancer. Women with one or more of the symptoms are more likely to have irritable bowel syndrome than ovarian cancer, she said. She also note that there are no highly accurate tests to clearly confirm ovarian cancer in women who have the symptoms, she added.
That means recognizing the symptoms may not lead to appropriate treatment or saving lives. Indeed, pursuing the symptoms as harbingers of ovarian cancer may lead to biopsies and other treatments that can be more harmful than beneficial.
''That was the frustration with this,'' Saslow said. But experts decided to issue the statement anyway because important recent studies by Goff have indicated the sudden onset of the symptoms in healthy women may be an important indicator.
''We can't not tell women there are any symptoms just because we're not sure what to do'' in terms of definitive diagnosis and treatment, Saslow said. (AP)