Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer

According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, when ovarian cancer is found before it has spread beyond the ovaries, the five-year survival rate is greater than 92 percent. But because there is no screening method for early detection of ovarian cancer, only one-fifth of all cases are discovered at this stage. Instead, about 60 percent of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed with advanced or Stage III disease, when cancer cells have spread to tissues outside the pelvis or to regional lymph nodes and may be found on the outside of the liver. At this stage, the survival rate is lower, and any treatment the cancer is much more invasive.

As stated above, there is no screening method for early detection for ovarian cancer. The symptoms of the disease are vague, and are not always gynecologic. But research shows that women with ovarian cancer often report having the following symptoms:

A swollen or bloated abdomen or increased girth. Some women notice that their pants or skirts are getting tight around the waist. The bloating is a sign that fluid, called ascites, is building up in the abdominal cavity in later stage disease.

Persistent pressure or pain in the abdomen or pelvis

Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly

Urinary concerns, such as urgency or frequency

Change in bowel habits with new onset constipation and/or diarrhea

Unexplained vaginal bleeding

Any woman may have these symptoms for reasons not related to ovarian cancer. However, if these symptoms are new and unusual and persist daily for more than two weeks, a woman should see her doctor, preferably a gynecologist, and should ask about ovarian cancer.

Many women who are eventually diagnosed with ovarian cancer spend several weeks or months seeing a variety of specialists to address symptoms like those above. These different specialists are not likely to perform a pelvic examination that might identify an ovarian tumor. Many women don’t go to their OB/GYN, as it never occurs to them that the symptoms they are having are related to their reproductive systems, or to ovarian cancer. This delay in diagnosis can allow the disease to progress, making it harder to treat successfully. Studies show that even women with early stage ovarian cancer can get the symptoms listed. Prompt attention may lead to detection of the disease at its earliest stage and with its best prognosis.

Information courtesy of the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund

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