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Ovarian cancer, often called the ‘silent killer,’ is the deadliest form of gynecological cancer. That could soon change.

Thanks to a ‘Special Interest Project’ grant from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention,  researchers at the UW Madison Prevention Research Center, The University Iowa, and the University of Minnesota are working together to identify early predictors of ovarian cancer.  Research examines electronic health record data from three Midwestern healthcare systems using interpretable machine learning models to determine whether demographic/clinical variables, social determinants of health, and high frequency germline genetic variants can be used to help early detection of ovarian cancer. 

TL;DR The survival rate for ovarian cancer could soon be greatly improved.

Often called the “silent” killer, ovarian cancer is hard to detect because early symptoms are vague, according to Healthline.com. Early symptoms like bloating, fatigue, and weight loss are easily ignored. 

There are currently no screening tests for ovarian cancer either, which would be used to find the disease earlier, when treatments work best. In addition, pelvic exams often  don’t detect early-stage ovarian cancer because the ovaries are positioned so deeply inside the abdominal cavity– making it difficult to feel any lumps or abnormalities. 

According to CDC data in 2019–19,571 news cases of Ovarian cancer were reported among women, and 13,445 women died. 354 of those cases were in Wisconsin. 

This new collaborative project’s goal is to improve ovarian cancer survival rates and eventually find a cure.

Researchers expect the tool to be useful for early detection in underrepresented and under-resourced women, which will contribute to more equitable health care and health outcomes. 

Early signs of ovarian cancer—

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding (particularly in women post-menopause)  
  • Pain or pressure in the pelvic area
  • Stomachaches
  • Back pain
  • Feeling full too quickly or difficulty eating
  • A change in bathroom habits (both increased frequency and constipation) 

The Bottom Line: The CDC recommends that you pay attention to your body, and know what is normal for you. If you have any abnormalities for more than two weeks, call your doctor. For more information on ovarian cancer, click here.