Ovarian cancer doesn’t have a standard screening test like breast cancer or cervical cancer. Because of that it’s harder to find ovarian cancer at an early stage when it’s easier to treat. There are some subtle symptoms, however, that you can watch for. If you feel like you’re experiencing any of these, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. But your concerns should be addressed. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your gynecologist for an exam.
6 Subtle Signs of Ovarian Cancer
Here are six symptoms that you should be aware of that could be associated with ovarian cancer. You will know what is normal for your body and will be able to recognize what is out of the ordinary, especially if these signs stick around for more than a couple of weeks:
- Appetite changes
- Urgent or frequent urination
- Menstruation abnormalities or bleeding after menopause
- Discomfort or pain in the pelvis
- Low energy
Remember, just because you have a symptom of ovarian cancer it doesn’t mean that’s the cause. Schedule your appointment with your doctor and try to take notes about how you’re feeling until your appointment date. This allows you to give them accurate information about how frequently you noticed various symptoms.
1. Appetite Changes
When ovarian cancer is growing in the pelvis, it can cause a buildup of fluid in the area around the stomach, which is referred to as ascites. When this happens you may not feel hungry because the pressure on your stomach from the fluid tells your body the stomach is full. If you notice your appetite has gone away or you get full quickly, especially in combination with any of the other symptoms, talk to your doctor.
2. Bloating and Gas
Like appetite changes, ascites can make you feel as though you are bloated. There are many different reasons that you can be bloated, such as the food you have recently eaten or your menstrual cycle. However, if you have consistent and uncomfortable bloating that may be accompanied by gas or heartburn, you should have your physician look at your abdomen.
3. Urgent or Frequent Urination
When a tumor grows in the pelvis, it can push on the bladder which is in the same area. Some women will have a sudden urgency to use the bathroom. If you notice that there isn’t much urine coming out, that could mean there is something pushing into the bladder that needs to be addressed.
4. Abnormal Bleeding
Your ovaries make much of the estrogen used in your body. If there is a problem with the ovaries your estrogen levels are likely to be out of balance, and that can cause a missed menstrual cycle if you haven’t gone through menopause yet. Of course, first, be sure you’re not pregnant before worrying about cancer!
If you have already gone through menopause and you start bleeding, see your gynecologist as soon as possible for a diagnosis of the cause. This can occur for a few different reasons, including ovarian cancer.
5. Discomfort or Pain in the Pelvis
A common symptom of ovarian cancer that can easily be brushed off is pain in your abdomen, hips, or pelvis. Some will feel discomfort during sex. You may also have back pain or an upset stomach. Constipation is occasionally felt. Don’t allow this to go on for more than a few weeks before seeing a doctor to find the cause.
6. Low Energy for No Explained Reason
Cancer can cause hormone levels and proteins to get out of their normal ranges and cause inflammation in the body. This can lead to exhaustion and fatigue. If you feel this way, make sure you have a solid schedule in place and eat well to eliminate other potential triggers.
While these are the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer, they are not exclusive. Some other reported symptoms are unexplained weight loss, non-bloody vaginal discharge, and nausea.
Risk Factors for Developing Ovarian Cancer
While there is no certain way to determine if you will get ovarian cancer, certain factors can increase your risk. Common risk factors include:
- Being middle-aged or older
- Being overweight
- Having a history of ovarian cancer in the family related to a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene
- Have had prior cancers, like breast or colon cancers
- Have been diagnosed with endometriosis
- Having used estrogen hormone replacement therapy
- Have had difficulty getting pregnant or have not given birth
Having several of these risk factors does not necessarily mean you have or will get an ovarian cancer diagnosis. It is best to discuss with your physician about your risk, and if there are any steps you should be taking to minimize it.
Screening and Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer
We know that early detection makes a huge difference in how easy it is to treat ovarian cancer. While ovarian cancer screening tests exist, they aren’t usually recommended unless a woman is considered to be at high risk, or exhibits specific symptoms. That’s because the blood test used for screening can also show elevated numbers for several non-cancerous conditions.
It is important to have an annual pelvic exam so that anything unusual can be noted by your doctor when they do the exam. And remember, even if a tumor is found, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s cancer. Several different types of cysts are common on the ovaries and can cause some of the same symptoms.
If you believe that you are experiencing abnormal symptoms or are at risk for ovarian cancer, schedule an appointment soon with your gynecologist. You don’t have to wait until your annual visit.
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with ovarian cancer the gynecologic oncologists at WVCI will walk you through every step of the treatment process and the plan that’s right for you. Appointments are available at our locations in Albany, Corvallis, Eugene, Florence, and Newport, Oregon, with an ovarian cancer specialist.