In a study published in the Journal of Women's Health (16:971-986, 2007), researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Thomson Healthcare found a distinct pattern of medical signs and symptoms that occurred prior to the detection of ovarian cancer. According to the study, the conditions patients experienced before an ovarian cancer diagnosis included abdominal pain, urinary tract conditions, menopausal disorders, female genital symptoms, and gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms were most pronounced in the 30 to 90 days prior to diagnosis.
To make this determination, researchers analyzed medical claims from 920 patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer and tracked the symptoms those patients experienced prior to diagnosis. These results were compared with claims data for 2,760 women without ovarian cancer matched on age, geographic region, Medicare eligibility, and health plan type.
Five Conditions Named
Five conditions were identified in the study as being possibly related to ovarian cancer because they were reported significantly more frequently by women diagnosed with the cancer than they were in the comparison group. While all symptoms were reported among women with and without ovarian cancer, the rate of these symptoms was higher, and continued to increase, beginning 90 days prior to diagnosis. Abdominal pain was most frequently linked to a subsequent ovarian cancer diagnosis, with 83% of women in the ovarian cancer group recording abdominal pain within 30 days of diagnosis in contrast to fewer than 2% in the comparison group.
Other symptoms more frequently recorded for the ovarian cancer group included female genital symptoms, which were 3.5 times more frequent, and gastrointestinal symptoms, which were 1.5 to 2 times more frequent. Urinary tract disorders and menopausal symptoms were also recorded twice as frequently among the women in the ovarian cancer group.
This study found that while the presence of ovarian cancer–related symptoms and conditions prior to diagnoses was documented in the medical claims data, this increase was most pronounced in the 2 to 3 months prior to diagnosis. Still, there remains a challenge to link symptoms with ovarian cancer, as many of the related symptoms are also present for several other disorders and diseases.
"Ovarian cancer is most often diagnosed at the later stages," said Stella Chang, research director at Thomson Healthcare and coauthor of the study. "Identifying a pattern of symptoms can keep doctors one step ahead of a dangerous disease. It is important to understand that these symptoms do not automatically dictate that a woman has ovarian cancer, but recognizing them could lead to earlier diagnosis and more treatment options to save a patient's life."