Ovarian cancer campaigns need rethink

Ovarian cancer campaigns need rethink

13 Jul 2011

Public campaigns that focus on symptoms usually associated with ovarian cancer need a rethink according to La Trobe University Professor Marian Pitts.

cancerHer views emerge from an Australian study of 2,200 healthy women, aged 18 to 70 years old, which shows that two out of three participants experienced symptoms typical of ovarian cancer.

Professor Pitts, survey leader author and Director of the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society (ARCSHS), said half the women surveyed experienced abdominal bloating in the last 12 months, 37% had abdominal pain, 30% had increased abdominal size and 29% had pelvic pain.

Only a third experienced no such symptoms, 19% experienced two symptoms, and 13% experienced three symptoms.

‘The symptoms are individually very common but when there is a combination of symptoms, this is more indicative of potential problems,’ she said.

Professor Pitts said that current public awareness campaigns educating women about ovarian cancer symptoms are targeting a large number of women who do not have the disease.

‘Public health messages need to target the right women rather than the worried well: they need to focus on the combination and severity of symptoms not individual and isolated symptoms.’

Professor Pitts said the ARCSHS survey findings reflected a 2005 review of symptoms associated with ovarian cancer that showed the prevalence of symptoms varied depending on how the data were collected.

A recent position statement on population screening and early detection of ovarian cancer from the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre found no evidence to support the use of any tests (pelvic examination, CA125 or other biomarkers, and transvaginal ultrasound) to screen asymptomatic women for ovarian cancer.

 ‘The issue is that symptomatic diagnosis of ovarian cancer remains challenging,’ said Professor Pitts.

More than 204,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year worldwide. In Australia, ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cause of cancer diagnosis in women and the sixth most common cause of cancer death.

The five-year relative survival rate for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer between 1998 and 2002 was only 42%. In the past, ovarian cancer has been described as a ‘silent killer’ as precursor symptoms are vague or non-specific.


Professor Marian Pitts, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Societ
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