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J Natl Cancer Inst. 2010 Feb 24;102(4):222-9. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djp500. Epub 2010 Jan 28.

Predictive value of symptoms for early detection of ovarian cancer.

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Program in Epidemiology, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, PO Box 19024, Seattle, WA 98108-1024, USA.



A recent consensus statement encouraged use of certain symptoms to diagnose ovarian cancer earlier. We assessed the sensitivity, specificity, and positive predictive value of a proposed symptom index and of symptoms included in the consensus recommendation.


In-person interviews were conducted with 812 case patients, aged 35-74 years, who had epithelial ovarian cancer that was diagnosed from January 1, 2002, through December 31, 2005, and with 1313 population-based control subjects. The symptom index was considered positive when pelvic or abdominal pain or bloating or feeling full was reported at least daily for at least 1 week, with an onset of less than 12 months before diagnosis or a reference date (for control subjects). The consensus criteria were considered fulfilled when any symptom above or urinary urgency or frequency was reported for at least 1 month, with an onset of less than 12 months before diagnosis or a reference date. Positive predictive value was calculated by use of external estimates of cancer prevalence.


Most case patients who had a positive index or met consensus criteria did so only within 5 months before diagnosis. Symptoms (except nausea) were somewhat less likely to have occurred among women diagnosed with early-stage than late-stage ovarian cancer. The estimated positive predictive value of the symptom index or symptoms meeting the consensus criteria was 0.6%-1.1% overall and less than 0.5% for early-stage disease.


Use of symptoms to trigger medical evaluation for ovarian cancer is likely to result in diagnosis of the disease in only one of 100 women in the general population with such symptoms.

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