Background: Ovarian carcinoma often is called the "silent killer" because the disease usually is not detected until an advanced stage. The authors' goal was to evaluate preoperative symptoms and factors that may contribute to delayed diagnosis for women with ovarian carcinoma.
Methods: A two-page survey was distributed to 1500 women who subscribe to CONVERSATIONS!, a newsletter about ovarian carcinoma. Because the survey could be copied and given to other patients, 1725 surveys were returned from women in 46 states and 4 Canadian provinces.
Results: The median age of the surveyed women was 52 years, and 70% had Stage III or IV disease (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics). When asked about symptoms before the diagnosis of ovarian carcinoma, 95% reported symptoms, which were categorized as abdominal (77%), gastrointestinal (70%), pain (58%), constitutional (50%), urinary (34%), and pelvic (26%). Only 11% of women with Stage I/II and 3% with Stage III/IV reported no symptoms before their diagnosis. Women who ignored their symptoms were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with advanced disease compared with those who did not (P = 0.002). The time required for a health care provider to make the diagnosis was reported as less than 3 months by 55%, but greater than 6 months by 26% and greater than 1 year by 11%. Factors significantly associated with delay in diagnosis were omission of a pelvic exam at first visit; having a multitude of symptoms; being diagnosed initially with no problem, depression, stress, irritable bowel, or gastritis; not initially receiving an ultrasound, computed tomography, or CA 125 test; and younger age. The type of health care provider seen initially, insurance, and specific symptoms did not correlate with delayed diagnosis.
Conclusions: This large national survey confirms that the majority of women with ovarian carcinoma are symptomatic and frequently have delays in diagnosis.
Copyright 2000 American Cancer Society.