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The utility of physical examination in ovarian cancer recurrence detection: a retrospective analysis informing virtual surveillance care


Objectives Given the recent rapid increase in telemedicine in the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic, we sought to investigate the utility of symptom review, CA125, and physical examination in the detection of ovarian cancer recurrence to determine the role of virtual surveillance care in the COVID-19 era.

Methods This retrospective cohort study included patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer between 2013 and 2020 who achieved remission after primary treatment and then had recurrence while in a routine surveillance program. Modalities that detected recurrence including symptoms, CA125, physical examination, or ‘other,’ which was denoted if imaging was obtained for reasons other than suspected recurrence and recurrence was incidentally identified, were recorded. Descriptive statistics were performed to summarize the cohort.

Results One hundred and nine patients met inclusion criteria. At time of recurrence, elevated CA125 was present in 97 (89.0%) patients, symptoms in 41 (37.6%), and abnormal physical exam findings in 27 (24.8%). Recurrence was incidentally found with imaging obtained for reasons other than suspicion of recurrence in six (5.5%) patients. Recurrence was suspected based on multiple modalities in 46 (42.2%) patients. Elevated CA125, symptoms, or both were present in 102 (93.6%) patients. Of patients with abnormal physical exam findings, 26 (96.3%) also had elevated CA125 or symptoms present. Recurrence was suspected based on physical exam findings alone in one (0.9%) patient.

Conclusions Over 90% of ovarian cancer recurrences were detected by rising CA125, symptoms, or both. Only one patient had recurrence detected by physical examination alone. Given that review of symptoms and CA125 can be conducted virtually, virtual visits may offer a reasonable alternative to in-person visits for ovarian cancer surveillance for patients who have pre-treatment elevated CA125.

  • Fallopian Tube Neoplasms
  • Peritoneal Neoplasms
  • Ovarian Neoplasms
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Ovarian Cancer

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. In accordance with the journal’s guidelines, we will provide our data for the reproducibility of this study in other centers if such is requested.

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