Ovarian cancer is an enigma. While most women experience symptoms early, when it is easiest to treat, four out of five are misdiagnosed, or ignore their symptoms—until the cancer spreads. Almost 80 percent of women aren’t diagnosed with ovarian cancer until it in advanced stages.
Why are the symptoms so difficult to recognize? Because they can be symptoms of other issues… or be vague… or even come and go.
Since ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths in women, and September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, brush up on the early-warning signs.
Early symptoms include:
- An increase in tummy size
- Abdominal, back or pelvic pain
- Urgent or frequent need to urinate
- Bowel changes
These symptoms, lasting for two week or more or worsening, may be more subtle signs:
- Feeling full after eating only a few bites or a loss of appetite
- Diarrhea, constipation, or the constant urge to have a bowel movement, or pain while going
- An abdominal mass
- Unexplained weight loss
- Nausea, vomiting, heartburn, gas, or indigestion
- A feeling of pressure on the bladder or needing to go all the time
- Bleeding or spotting
- Deep pain during intercourse
These symptoms should be checked by a health care provider, but beware! Ovarian cancer symptoms are commonly misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or constipation, gastritis, stress, depression or even urinary tract infections. This delay means many women don’t get the proper treatment until the cancer is more advanced.
Can you test for ovarian cancer?
There is no routine screening test for ovarian cancer and a cervical smear, or pap test, does not test for it, which is why annual gynecological exams and detailed, accurate discussions about any symptoms are so important for women. Those experiencing symptoms are given a blood test and a transvaginal ultrasound.
Who’s at risk for ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer tends to run in families or is the result of an inherited gene mutations. Although it can occur at any age, ovarian cancer is most common in women ages 50 to 60 years old, so age is a risk factor. Those who have used long-term or high-dose estrogen hormone replacement therapy may be at risk too. Finally, women who began menstruation at an early age or started menopause at a later age, or both, have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
What can you do to prevent ovarian cancer?
Discuss your unique risk factors with your doctor. If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancers, your doctor may recommend genetic testing. Women who use oral contraceptives may have a reduced risk of ovarian cancer but, since oral contraceptives do carry other risks, your doctor can help you determine if the benefits outweigh those risks.
Teal is the color for Ovarian Cancer Awareness. Now that you know the symptoms to watch for and the risks factors, help spread the word to other women by sharing their information and wearing teal this month.