We have long thought of ovarian cancer as a silent killer with few early symptoms. But ovarian cancer may not be as mysterious as we think. In fact, there are early symptoms of the disease and it is important to recognize them.
Why is this so important? Unfortunately, more than 70% of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed at an advanced stage and the prognosis is poor.
The five-year survival rate (the percentage of women who survive five or more years after diagnosis) for early-stage ovarian cancer is 80-90%.
The five-year survival rate for advanced ovarian cancer ranges from 28% to 40%.
“Women often ignore the early signs of ovarian cancer or think their symptoms are due to aging, weight gain, or other serious problems,” says Amina Ahmed, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at RUSH. “That’s why it’s so hard to detect ovarian cancer when it’s the earliest it can be treated.”
It’s also important to take the symptoms of ovarian cancer seriously, as there is currently no way to detect ovarian cancer in women who are asymptomatic, have no family history, or have a BRCA genetic mutation (which puts them at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer).
Don’t ignore these common symptoms of ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer symptoms can be vague, but it’s important to note how long symptoms last, Ahmed said. “The history of many women with ovarian cancer is that they had symptoms months before they were diagnosed,” she said.
Talk to your doctor if your symptoms don’t go away, don’t go away within one to three weeks, or if prescription medications aren’t helping. By recognizing these early signs, women can catch and treat the disease before it progresses.
Almost all women experience the discomfort of bloating and flatulence. Bloating is normal, but constant bloating that lasts for three weeks every day, especially during your menstrual cycle, is not.
Feeling full and full all the time is one of the most common early symptoms of ovarian cancer. Bloating (visible to the eyes) and swelling can be a warning sign that there is a problem.
Gastrointestinal problems can be linked to everything from stress and anxiety to irritable bowel syndrome and ovarian cancer. Constipation is a common gastrointestinal symptom when it comes to ovarian cancer.
“Notice a change in bowel habits,” says Ahmed. “In particular, the symptom may be new constipation that doesn’t go away without any intervention.”
- Prolonged pain
Persistent abdominal or pelvic pressure and/or back pain lasting one to three weeks may indicate a problem. Although this vague symptom of ovarian cancer can accompany a number of conditions, it is important to note that if the pain is new to you, it does not come and go and cannot be easily attributed to other factors.
If your pain decreases when the stress decreases, your symptoms may be related to stress. If you make small changes to your diet and the pain improves, it may be a gastrointestinal problem.
“Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to distinguish the symptoms of ovarian cancer from digestive problems or stress,” says Ahmed. “That’s why so many women see multiple specialists before they get a final diagnosis.”
If you have these symptoms, if they persist, and if you’re trying to calm yourself down, talk to your doctor about the following tests.
Examination of the pelvic organs
Evaluation of gastrointestinal function, including physical examination and possibly gastrointestinal tests (eg, endoscopy, colonoscopy).
CT, MRI or ultrasound
Women often ignore the early signs of ovarian cancer or think their symptoms are simply due to aging, weight gain, or other serious problems. This is why ovarian cancer is so difficult to detect in its early stages that it can be treated.
- Changes in bladder function
Generally, when women experience urinary tract symptoms such as pain or urgency during urination, they think it is a urinary tract infection. This is often the case.
But bladder problems can also signal gynecological and reproductive problems, such as ovarian cancer.
Specific urinary symptoms associated with ovarian cancer include:
Bladder pressure and pain