Objective: To document symptoms associated with borderline, early and advanced ovarian cancer and identify personal characteristics associated with early versus late diagnosis.
Methods: Information concerning symptoms and diagnosis history was available from 811 women with ovarian cancer who took part in an Australian case-control study in the early 1990s. Women were classified into three groups for comparison based on their diagnosis: borderline, early (stage I-II) and advanced (stage III-IV) invasive cancer.
Results: Sixteen percent of women with borderline tumors, 7% with early cancer and 4% with advanced cancer experienced no symptoms before diagnosis (P < 0.0001). Among women with symptoms, abdominal pain (44%) or swelling (39%) were most frequently reported; an abdominal mass (12%) and gynecological symptoms (12%) were less common. Compared to advanced stage cancer, women with early stage cancer were more likely to report an abdominal mass or urinary symptoms but less likely to report gastrointestinal problems or general malaise. General malaise and 'other' symptoms were least common in borderline disease. Older women, and those with higher parity or a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, were more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage of disease.
Conclusions: Women who experience persistent or recurrent abdominal symptoms, particularly swelling and/or pain should be encouraged to seek medical attention and physicians should be alert to the possibility of ovarian cancer even in the absence of an abdominal mass. Further information about the prevalence of these symptoms in the general population is essential to assist physicians in patient management.