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Ovarian Cancer Symptoms You Shouldn't Miss
Jan 18, 2022

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms You Shouldn't Miss

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.   

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are subtle, however, there are signs you can watch for. Experiencing any of these does not necessarily mean you have cancer, but you should address any symptoms you’re experiencing. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your gynecologist for an exam. 

6 Subtle Signs of Ovarian Cancer

  1. Appetite changes
  2. Bloating not related to regular menstruation
  3. Urgent or frequent urination
  4. Menstruation abnormalities or bleeding after menopause
  5. Discomfort or pain in the pelvis
  6. Low energy

These are the most common symptoms, but they are not the only ones. Other symptoms can include unexplained weight loss, having non-bloody vaginal discharge, and nausea.

Remember, just because you have a symptom of ovarian cancer doesn’t mean that’s the cause. If you are experiencing any of these and they persist for more than a few weeks, schedule your appointment with your gynecologist. 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

Ovarian cancer in the pelvis can lead to fluid buildup around the stomach, known 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 feel  full quickly, especially with other symptoms, talk to your doctor. 

2. Bloating and Gas

Like appetite changes, ascites can make you feel as though you are bloated. Different reasons, such as the food you have recently eaten or your menstrual cycle, can cause this. However, if you often feel bloated and have gas or heartburn, you should have your physician check for the cause. 

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 less urine or a slowed stream, it could mean something is pushing on the bladder and needs attention.

4. Abnormal Bleeding

Your ovaries make much of the estrogen used in your body. If there is a problem with the ovaries, 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’ve already gone through menopause and start bleeding, see your gynecologist as soon as possible to find out why. 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 ignored is pain in your abdomen, hips, or pelvis. This can include discomfort during sex, back pain or an upset stomach and constipation. Don’t allow this to continue for more than a few weeks before seeing a doctor to find the cause. 

6. Low Energy for No Explained Reason 

Ovarian cancer can cause an imbalance in hormone levels and proteins that cause inflammation throughout the body. This can lead to exhaustion and fatigue. If you feel this way, make sure you have a solid sleep schedule in place and eat well to eliminate other potential causes.

Risk Factors for Developing Ovarian Cancer

While there is no 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
  • A family history of ovarian cancer related to a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene
  • Prior cancers, like breast or colon cancers
  • Having endometriosis
  • Current or previous use of estrogen hormone replacement therapy
  • A history of difficulty getting pregnant or not giving birth

The presence of one or several of these risk factors does not necessarily mean the doctor will diagnose ovarian cancer. Talk to your doctor about your chances of getting ovarian cancer and steps you can take to lower your risk.

Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer

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 has specific symptoms. This is because the blood test used for screening ovarian cancer can also show elevated results for non-cancerous conditions. 

Yearly pelvic exams are important for your doctor to detect any abnormalities during the exam.  Remember, even if a tumor is found, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cancer. Several different types of cysts are common on the ovaries and can cause some of the same symptoms.

If you have abnormal symptoms or are at risk for ovarian cancer, schedule an appointment with your gynecologist soon. Don’t wait until your annual visit. 

Expert Ovarian Cancer Doctors and Cancer Care at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute 

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with ovarian cancer the gynecologic oncologists at WVCI will explain your diagnosis and create a cancer treatment plan that’s right for you. Appointments are available with an ovarian cancer specialist at our locations in Corvallis, Eugene, and Florence, Oregon.

find a WVCI cancer center location near you

Original content published January 2022. Updated December 2023.