Ovarian cancer is one of the more rare forms of cancer, but when it isn’t caught early, it is also among the most deadly. It’s dubbed “the silent killer,” because early symptoms are so vague, they are often ignored until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage.
It is for this reason that researchers at the McGill University Health Centre launched the DOVE (Detecting Ovarian Cancer Earlier) project, a specialized clinical service offering free tests and early detection services for women over 50.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, abdominal pain, frequent need to urinate, vaginal discharge or bleeding, and feeling full quickly. Any woman who experiences one or more of these symptoms for more than two weeks but less than a year is invited to enrol.
“The symptoms are vague, and can easily be confused with other conditions, such as gastroenteritis,” said project manager Dr. Abbas Kérim-Dikéni. “By the time the cancer gets diagnosed through other means, it is often too late.”
Women in the project will visit the clinic three times: first for a blood test and questionnaire; then for a vaginal exam, and finally for a second blood test. Early testing indisputably saves lives. The cancer has a 93-per-cent survival rate when diagnosed early, compared to only a 10- to 30-per-cent chance when caught at Stage 3 or later.
The project, which began in 2008, has caught about 30 cases of ovarian cancer so far. About 300 women each year are diagnosed in the Montreal area.
“We don’t expect to diagnose many cases because the cancer is very rare,” said Kérim-Dikéni. “It’s a lottery, but it’s one where you don’t want to hit the jackpot. And every life we save is a life that matters to us.”
Kérim-Dikéni expects the project to continue for another two to three years, by which time he expects that 14,000 women will have been tested. Further in the future, researchers at the MUHC dream of developing a way to screen for ovarian cancer before symptoms even develop.
But for now, Kérim-Dikéni encourages any woman over the age of 50 with symptoms and a valid provincial health card to call and see if they are eligible for the DOVE project. The project’s main clinic is at the Royal Victoria Hospital, with six satellite offices around the Montreal area in order to make it widely accessible.
“We ask women to listen to their bodies,” he said. “They know best, and if they’re having any symptoms or any doubt, please call.”
To find out if you are eligible for the DOVE project, call 1-866-716-3267 or 514-934-1934 ext. 39348.