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Study Pans Ovarian Cancer Screening Usefulness

Ovarian cancer has been called a silent killer. In the U.S alone, 21,880 women will be diagnosed this year with this type of cancer -- and 13,850 will die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.

It's difficult to catch early -- and a new study by the American Cancer Society says the current screening tests only slightly reduce deaths, by only 11 percent.

But why?

On "The Early Show," CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, who is also a practicing OB-GYN, explained, "They are not accepted screening tests, per se. They're all we have and what we're talking about here specifically is a physician exam, a pelvic exam, a pelvic ultrasound and then usually a blood test known as a CA125. Not 100 percent accurate. They can give you a normal result when there is, in fact, cancer there."

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She added, "I say this to a lot of my patients, with that blood test, there are about six other blood test markers that women should get and ask their doctors for, if there is a suspicion for ovarian cancer. Most doctors even are not aware of those other markers so they should ask for them."

"Early Show" co-anchor Betty Nguyen said, "The key really is to finding it and detecting it but it's difficult to detect. Correct?"

Ashton replied, "Exactly. The reason for that is because of where the ovaries sit in the pelvis, in the abdomen. They present with very, very vague and common symptoms. A lot of them can be missed by not just the patient or misinterpreted by the doctor so the big ones we think about with warning signs or symptoms of cancer, pelvic pain and pressure is the biggest one, indigestion or a change in the way you eat. You might take a bite and then push it away saying you feel full, stomach swelling or burping is a big one and changes in urinary habits. Frequency or an urgency to urinate more often. If you have the symptoms more than two weeks, you should talk to your doctor and ask to be examined by a gynecologist."

Ashton said generally the risk of ovarian cancer of all women is 1 in 70.
"(Women who are) over the age of 55, if a women never had a baby, a history of ovarian or breast cancer or colon or uterine cancer in the family. These are the things that should be on the forefront of the radar and talk to your doctor about the tests," she said.

So how can you reduce the risk?

Ashton said, "Birth control pills have been shown to reduce the risk, tubal ligation, healthy diet - all those things are important. Until there's a great screening test, all we can do is be aware of the symptoms."

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