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Doctors Identify Possible Early Signs of Ovarian Cancer

Cancer experts Wednesday released a list of symptoms they say are early warning signs of ovarian cancer. Catching ovarian cancer early increases five-year survival odds from 35 percent to 90 percent. An oncologist outlines the guidelines.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Finally tonight, earlier detection of ovarian cancer. Jeffrey Brown has our story.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It's among the deadliest of cancers and among the hardest to detect. More than 15,000 women in the U.S. will die from ovarian cancer this year; more than 22,000 new cases will be diagnosed.

    When caught early enough, more than 90 percent of patients survive five years or more. But too often, ovarian cancer is not found before it has spread in the body. When detected late, the five-year survival rate drops to just 35 percent.

    To promote early detection, three groups of experts today released a list of symptoms they say are warning signs for ovarian cancer. Dr. Barbara Goff is with the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, one of the three groups involved. Her work at the University of Washington in Seattle helped identify these symptoms.

    Dr. Goff, before we discuss the particular findings, tell us a bit more about the problem that's existed up to now in dealing with ovarian cancer. Why did you need to come up with a list of symptoms?

  • DR. BARBARA GOFF, Gynecologic Cancer Foundation:

    Well, historically, ovarian cancer has been called a silent killer, because there weren't supposed to be any symptoms until advanced stages, when chances of cure were poor or nonexistent. But over the past 10 years, through research of my own and other investigators, we've really come to realize that there are some early warning signs of ovarian cancer, and these may give us opportunities to diagnose the disease earlier.

    The symptoms, as we'll talk about, are common symptoms that people have frequently. However, the most recent research has indicated that symptoms that are persistent, symptoms that are new to a patient, may actually provide the clues that we need to make the diagnosis earlier.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, tell us what the research says. What are the symptoms to look for?

  • DR. BARBARA GOFF:

    Well, the most important symptoms are bloating, increased abdominal size, pelvic or abdominal pain or pressure, having difficulty eating, feeling full quickly, and having urinary symptoms, particularly urgency. But as you see, those are symptoms we all have from time to time.

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