Obstetrician and gynecological surgeon Barbara Goff used to subscribe to the conventional medical wisdom that there are few early symptoms of ovarian cancer. But she changed her mind a few years ago, after a meeting with ovarian cancer survivors who told her they'd all had early symptoms of the disease. They urged her to follow up on their experiences, and she recalls thinking, "Wow, you know, maybe there's something here, in this symptom thing!"
Goff emphasizes the importance of finding ovarian cancer as soon as possible. "The cure rates for women with early-stage disease are 70 to 90 percent, where for most women who present to late-stage disease, the cure rates are only 10 to 30 percent, at best."
Barbara Goff has now completed her third study, surveying thousands of women in the process. She and her research team have been able to identify six symptoms that seem to be strong indicators of early stage ovarian cancer: pelvic or abdominal pain, abdominal bloating or increased abdominal size and difficulty eating and feeling full quickly. "When… any of those symptoms occurred with a frequency of at least 12 times per month and they had been present for less than a year," Goff explains, "these symptoms were actually predictive of women who had cancer."
Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other gynecological cancer. And currently there's only one blood test that can indicate its presence at an early stage. Goff says that using her symptom index is just as predictive as the blood test in detecting the disease. And more importantly, she adds, it's less expensive. "It doesn't cost anything to ask somebody about what symptoms they've had," she points out, "unlike a blood test or an ultrasound or a radiographic study. That costs money and sometimes those studies are uncomfortable, sometimes they can carry some risk associated with them. But this is no risk and really almost no cost, which is what's great about it."
Barbara Goff says the next step is to have primary care doctors use her symptom index in regular practice to confirm its accuracy. The research appears in the current on-line issue of the journal Cancer.