The role of regular physical examination in the detection of ovarian cancer recurrence

Gynecol Oncol. 2008 Aug;110(2):158-61. doi: 10.1016/j.ygyno.2008.04.030. Epub 2008 Jun 9.


Objective: To evaluate how ovarian recurrences were first detected and the relative role of Ca 125, symptom enquiry and physical examination in recurrence detection.

Methods: In this retrospective study, records from women with ovarian cancer recurrences diagnosed between 1999 and 2004 were reviewed to determine how the recurrences were first detected. Women were routinely followed up by a combination of symptom enquiry, physical examination and Ca 125. When recurrence was suspected, further investigations such as imaging and biopsy of the suspected recurrence would be arranged to confirm the diagnosis. The patients were followed up for a median of 53.5 months.

Results: Eighty patients were identified to have ovarian cancer recurrences, with median time to recurrence of 12 months. Although 41 (51%) had abnormal physical findings, only three (3.8%) first presented with physical findings and none had positive physical findings alone. Ca 125 taken at the clinic visits in these 3 patients when the signs were detected turned out to be raised. For the remaining 77 patients, 49 (61%) and 28 (35%) first presented with raised Ca 125 level and symptoms respectively. The median survival from the time of recurrence for those first presented with Ca 125, symptoms and physical findings were 25 months, 17 months and 11 months respectively.

Conclusion: Routine physical examination had a very limited additional role and could be possibly omitted as part of the routine follow up strategy.

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • CA-125 Antigen / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / blood
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / blood
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / pathology
  • Physical Examination
  • Retrospective Studies


  • CA-125 Antigen