Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose in its early stages. There is no real screening test for early detection, and the symptoms are vague and easily mistaken for normal gastrointestinal problems such as constipation and bloating.
But this does not mean that women are powerless. Knowing the symptoms and risk factors of ovarian cancer is the best defense against the disease.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
Pelvic examination is important for a woman’s health, but unfortunately, most ovarian tumors are difficult to feel. Health care providers screen for things like Pap and HPV (human papillomavirus) to detect cervical cancer, but not ovarian cancer. In most cases, ovarian cancer is diagnosed when a woman undergoes an ultrasound or CT scan. All this means that the diagnosis often comes late, when the cancer has progressed and is likely to spread to other parts of the body.
There are many warning signs of non-cancerous conditions, but if you’re experiencing any of these common ovarian cancer symptoms and they’re more or more frequent than usual, talk to your family doctor or gynecologist.
Abdominal or pelvic pain
Difficulty eating / loss of appetite
Feeling full after eating a small amount of food (early satiety)
Urinary output or frequency
You may also experience:
Changes in periods such as heavy bleeding or irregularity
Abdominal tumors occur during weight loss
Risk factors for ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women, but a woman’s lifetime risk remains relatively low, according to the American Cancer Society. In the United States, less than 1% of women without a family history or additional risk factors are diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer usually occurs in postmenopausal women and increases with age. Half of all ovarian cancers occur in women age 63 and older, and the disease affects white women more than black women.
Other factors that may increase your risk include:
Obesity or overweight
Having your first child after age 35 or never being able to conceive
Use of hormonal preparations after menopause
Family history of ovarian, breast, endometrial, or colon cancer
BRCA1 and BRCA2, hereditary gene mutations associated with Lynch syndrome and other cancers