Montreal oncologist urges women to screen for ovarian cancer

A team at the McGill University Health Centre is hoping to encourage more women over the age of 50 to be screened for ovarian cancer, which often goes undetected.

McGill University Health Centre team hopes to bring mobile testing clinic to the streets

Dr. Lucy Gilbert says women need to be on the lookout for symptoms. (CBC)

A team at the McGill University Health Centre is hoping to encourage more women over the age of 50 to be screened for ovarian cancer, which often goes undetected.

Dr. Lucy Gilbert says that when the DOvEE project — a clinic dedicated to the early diagnosis of ovarian cancer — operated only out of the Royal Victoria Hospital, it had a hard time reaching a diverse array of women.

Two out of three patients were anglophone, educated and affluent, she said.

In order for their services and screenings to be more accessible, the team now offers seven satellite clinics in the Montreal area.

"The demographics now of women attending DOvEE clinics are more like the demographics of Montreal," Gilbert said.

"We are seeing many more francophone women."

Don't ignore the symptoms

While Gilbert is proud of reaching a wider demographic, she says many women simply ignore the symptoms of ovarian cancer since they are often mistakenly attributed to other causes. 

Symptoms of ovarian cancer include feeling full, bloating and general discomfort. (CBC)

"The initial symptoms are so mild and so vague, non-significant and non-specific," Gilbert said. "Like bloating, vague fullness, early satiety, clothes around the midriff getting tighter."

Gilbert adds that those mild symptoms are not always diagnosed by general practitioners in time.

In 2015, the Canadian Cancer Society estimated that each year 2,800 Canadian women are diagnosed with the disease, and 1,750 women die from it.

Bringing cancer screening to women

The team's next step is to offer a mobile testing clinic. The mobile clinic would visit community centres, shopping centres and other popular venues so that women could be screened for ovarian cancer close to home and work.

The project received $300,000 from the Cedars Cancer Foundation in September 2015, but Gilbert says they are facing challenges of staffing, insurance and proper layout of the unit.

The other difficulty is making the roving unit more inviting.

"Women are frightened of the word cancer," she said. "They are not going to be entering a mobile unit that has the word cancer plastered all over it. They want a more upbeat appearance and a degree of elegance."

The team hopes a mobile unit will encourage more women to be screened for ovarian cancer. (McGill University Health Centre)

For now, Gilbert hopes that more women experiencing symptoms of ovarian cancer will contact them and be tested for free.

"Don't wait for it to get severe," Gilbert said. "This may save your life."

Women can contact the DOvEE project at 1-866-716-3267 or by visiting their website.