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Abdominal pain, urgency or leakage of urine

Ovarian Cancer, Scaring Women Half-To-Death

Dr. Gifford Jones image

By —— Bio and Archives August 26, 2007

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It’s been said that a little knowledge is an dangerous thing. A report from The Mayo Clinic shows that this is particularly true when the subject is ovarian cancer. And it illustrates how easy it is to both inform women and worry them at the same time.

Mayo researchers have claimed recently that there are early symptoms of ovarian cancer. To prove this they reviewed the symptoms of 107 women, aged 38 to 96, in the two years prior to being diagnosed with this disease. The most common complaints were crampy abdominal pain, increased frequency, urgency or leakage of urine. And they urged women with these symptoms to seek medical attention. 

But here lies a major problem. Doctors see hundreds of women with such symptoms who do not have this malignancy. 99.9 percent of the time women with bloating and abdominal pain are suffering from benign conditions such as the irritable bowel syndrome.

Others with increased urinary frequency usually have an infection. And those who lose their urine have a structural problem of the bladder, not an ovarian malignancy.

The point that must be stressed is that these same symptoms cover a large range of diseases. And if women fail to realize this fact they can be scared half-to-death. They assume these troubles are due to ovarian cancer.

But are there really “early” warning symptoms of ovarian cancer? I question this.  By the time symptoms occur, all too often the disease has spread to other areas.

So what should women do? Large numbers of women should first rid themselves of a myth. They believe, incorrectly, that the Pap smear that detects cervical cancer is also a reliable screening test for this deadly malignancy of the ovary. But there are major differences between these two cancers.

In the case of cervical cancer, the cervix (at the end of the vagina) is easy to see. So doctors can quickly scrape its surface and detect cancer cells by microscopic examination. In fact, if women have an annual Pap smear this test will even diagnose cellular changes years before a cancer would occur. Studies show that it may take as long as 10 to 15 years for cervical cells to go from being normal to outright cancers.

But with ovarian cancer the old story of “location, location, location” comes into play. In real estate investing, a bad location loses money. And the location of ovarian cancer is what kills so many women. The Almighty rates a zero for locating ovaries so deep in the female pelvis. It’s this location that makes it so devilishly hard to detect.

The big hurdle is that it’s impossible to scrape the ovarian surface without making an abdominal incision and that is obviously not practical. So, sad to say, there is no reliable test to diagnose early ovarian malignancy.

But there are some things women can do to decrease the risk of dying from this disease.

It helps to know your own body. I see patients constantly who complain of chronic annoying abdominal pain. The likelihood, when it is chronic, is that ovarian cancer is a remote possibility. Cancer pain invariably gets worse over time. But if you’ve always been healthy and suddenly, for no apparent reason, develop abdominal pain or unexpected bloating be sure to seek medical help. Particularly, if the symptom lasts for longer than two weeks. 

Be sure to arrange an annual pelvic examination once a year. If doctors suspect an ovary is not normal, a pelvic ultrasound can be done. This procedure may show an enlarged or suspicious ovary. In these cases a blood test known as Ca-125 can help to further pinpoint the diagnosis. But unfortunately this test can miss an ovarian malignancy and also be elevated when cancer is not present.

In the event these tests are suspicious of malignancy, a laparoscopic examination is necessary. A small optical instrument is inserted through the abdominal wall allowing doctors a visual inspection of the ovaries. And if there’s evidence of cancer either a biopsy or removal of the ovary can be done.

One good way to decrease the risk of ovarian cancer is the use of oral contraceptives. Women who have taken the birth control pill for several years have half the risk of developing this cancer.

Dr. Gifford Jones -- Bio and Archives | Comments

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of Harvard. Dr. Walker’s website is:

My book, “90 + How I Got There” can be obtained by sending $19.95 to:
Giff Holdings, 525 Balliol St, Unit # 6,Toronto, Ontario, M4S 1E1