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OBJECTIVE: To examine the symptoms of ovarian cancer in patients compared with symptoms experienced by healthy women using a case-control design.

METHODS: Cases (n = 168) were women with ovarian cancer diagnosed at two hospitals in New York between 1994 and 1997 who were interviewed shortly after diagnosis. They were compared with healthy women (n = 251 controls) from the community. Women were asked about the prevalence, duration, and constancy of eight symptoms and about use of three types of medications in the 6 to 12 months before diagnosis (cases) or interview (controls).

RESULTS: Nearly all the cases (93%) reported at least one symptom, compared with 42% of controls. The most common symptoms among cases were: unusual bloating, fullness, and pressure in the abdomen (71%); unusual abdominal pain or lower back pain (52%); and lack of energy (43%). The proportions of controls reporting these symptoms were 9, 15, and 16%, respectively, resulting in odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals of 25.3 (15.6, 40.9), 6.2 (4.0, 9.6), and 3.9 (2.5, 6.1), respectively, for these symptoms. Bloating, fullness, and pressure was of more recent onset among cases than controls (4.9 months compared with 7.6 months, P = .01). There were only minor differences in reported symptoms between cases with early and later stage disease.

CONCLUSION: Unusual bloating, fullness, and pressure, abdominal or back pain, and lack of energy are prominent symptoms in women with ovarian cancer and distinguish them from controls. Information on symptoms may make women and physicians more aware of changes associated with ovarian cancer.

(C) 2001 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists