Ovarian cancer, which originates in the ovaries, affects approximately 20,000 women every year in the United States. Thankfully when found early, ovarian cancer is highly treatable. Unfortunately, the symptoms of ovarian cancer are very common, and women often mistake them as symptoms of other, less severe issues. The American Cancer Society states that only 20% of ovarian cancers are detected early because the symptoms are so common.
It's important for women to pay attention to their bodies and note any changes they feel may be happening, even if they seem mild or even typical for something else. If you suspect you are experiencing any of these symptoms and you want to be checked out, you should make an appointment with your doctor to voice your concerns, and for further testing.
Bloating is something so many women experience that can be brought on by a myriad of different reasons, making it easy to dismiss as a symptom of something less severe. Women can bloat because of heat, diet, and even their menstrual cycle, so, it's often not something that raises any alarm bells. If you are experiencing bloating or abdominal swelling that won't go away, contact your doctor.
Pelvic Or Abdominal Pain
Any kind of pain should act as a red flag, and you should alert a doctor, but many women are accustomed to pelvic and/or abdominal pain, especially during menstruation, so it's easy to ignore. If you are experiencing pain or pressure in your pelvis or abdomen, contact a doctor.
Vaginal Bleeding Or Abnormal Discharge
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises women who are experiencing uncommon vaginal bleeding, especially if they're past menopause, to contact their doctor immediately as this is a symptom of ovarian cancer. Women who experience any kind of vaginal discharge that isn't what they usually experience, for two weeks or longer, should also contact their doctor if those symptoms persist.
Changes In Bowel Habits And/Or Frequent Urination
Listening to your body can help you recognize the symptoms of ovarian cancer early. Changes in your bowel habits such as constipation are symptoms that have been associated with the disease. An increased need to urinate as well as an increased urgency to urinate are also symptoms women should be aware of.
Unexplained weight loss can also be a symptom of ovarian cancer, as can changes in your appetite. Feeling full sooner and experiencing a loss of appetite are also listed as symptoms that can obviously contribute to weight loss.
The Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance also notes that women with the disease listed fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, and menstrual irregularities as symptoms they experienced, but noted these aren't as reliable since many other women without ovarian cancer also experience these symptoms.
Many women are shocked to discover that their annual Pap smear test doesn't screen for ovarian cancer. In fact, there is no routine screening test for the cancer of the reproductive organs, so understanding the symptoms is key in identifying cancer in the early stages.
According to The Mayo Clinic, there are three types of ovarian cancer:
- Epithelial:These tumors develop in the layer of tissue on the outside of the ovaries.
- Stromal:These tumors grow in hormone-producing cells.
- Germ cell:These tumors develop in egg-producing cells.
Approximately 90 percent of ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors, while stromal tumors make up approximately 7 percent. Germ cell tumors are the rarest and tend to affect younger women.
While women of any age can get ovarian cancer, it's most commonly found in women between the ages of 50 and 60. If you feel you are experiencing some of the symptoms above the CDC suggests asking your doctor for a diagnostic test, "like a rectovaginal pelvic exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, or a CA-125 blood test if you have any unexplained signs or symptoms of ovarian cancer."
The Mayo Clinic does state that while there are no definitive ways to prevent ovarian cancer, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. Taking oral contraceptives has been known to reduce the risk, but they also pose other health risks. It's important to speak with your doctor to see if taking birth control pills is for you.
Family history can also be a predictor of whether you may be at heightened risk for ovarian cancer. Talk to your doctor about whether or not you may be eligible for genetic testing.
Healthline states that when diagnosed in stage 1, ovarian cancer has a 5-year survival rate of 92%, but knowing your symptoms is key to early diagnosis. If you feel you may be at risk or have symptoms that are persisting, contact your doctor.