Photo: Ariel Skelley

Overweight or obese women may have symptoms of ovarian cancer that go undetected for a longer period of time. (Photo: Ariel Skelley)

Ovarian cancer is less likely to occur in African American women, but once it does, we are more likely to lose our lives to the disease. Now, new research published in the April 2016 of Journal of Women’s Health suggests a reason why.

There are very few early symptoms of ovarian cancer, making it difficult to diagnose in its early and possibly curable stages. Less than 20 percent of cases are diagnosed early as current screening methods are considered ineffective. Symptoms that may seem like something else, such as abdominal bloating, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, or urinary tract problems are the early warning signed. The only diagnostic tests for the disease are a for ovarian cancer are a transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) and the CA-125 blood test.

The Role of Belly Fat

The new study reports that ovarian cancer may be even tougher to detect early in African American women because we are more likely to be overweight or obese. In general, according to the research overweight or obese women may have symptoms of ovarian cancer that go undetected for a longer period of time than women who are closer to a healthy weight.

Chioma Erondu, MD, and co-authors from Duke University School of Medicine and Duke University Medical Center Durham, NC, Medical University of South Carolina in Charlestong, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and other prominent institutions found that about 60 percent of the women in the study were obese (BMI >30) and 94 percent reported at least one symptom of ovarian cancer during the year prior to diagnosis. Women with the highest BMI scores experienced the most symptoms more frequently and for longer duration than did women with lower scores.
The research team suggested that the findings may be linked to other recent research showing that excess abdominal fat in overweight and obese women could interfere with the detection of early symptoms.

“This important finding could impact the existing racial disparity in death associated with ovarian cancer by making physicians aware of the need to be especially vigilant for symptoms in obese women that might otherwise go undetected,” says Susan G. Kornstein, MD, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Women’s Health and executive director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Institute for Women’s Health in Richmond, VA,

in a journal press release.