A simple three-question survey has been developed to help clinicians identify women who may be experiencing symptoms of ovarian cancer.

The developers of the survey had 1,200 women, aged 40 to 87 years, complete various versions of a pencil-and-paper draft symptom index (SI) assessment form during their visits to a primary-care clinic in Seattle, Washington. Approximately half of the women were making the clinic visit to address a current health concern or to follow up on a problem reported at an earlier visit. The other half of the group was there for routine appointments, such as mammography screening. More than half of the participants reported being postmenopausal.

Of those surveyed, approximately 60 women (5%) had a positive SI that indicated the need for further testing; one of these women was diagnosed with ovarian cancer shortly thereafter. None of the 95% who tested negative on the SI developed ovarian cancer during a 12-month follow-up period.

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The survey version that proved most effective contained three questions as to whether a woman was experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, all of which had been identified previously as potentially indicative of ovarian cancer:

  • abdominal and/or pelvic pain
  • feeling full quickly and/or unable to eat normally
  • abdominal bloating and/or increased abdominal size.

The survey, published by Open Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (2012;2:181-193), also requests information on the frequency and duration of these symptoms.

“Women with symptoms that are frequent, continual, and new to them in the past year should talk to their doctor, as they may be candidates for further evaluation with ultrasound and blood tests that measure markers of ovarian cancer, such as CA-125,” explained lead author M. Robyn Andersen, PhD, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, in a statement issued by the facility.