8 early signs of ovarian cancer you should know


Ovarian cancer is a serious health concern and is the fifth most deadly cancer. Every year, about 20,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The ovaries, which are part of the reproductive system, have three types of cells: epithelial cells, germ cells, and stromal cells. Each of these cells can turn into cancerous tumors. Since these cancer cells are very tiny in the early stages, spotting ovarian cancer early is tough. However, recognizing the early signs can lead to a much better prognosis.

Why Does Early Detection Matter?

Detecting ovarian cancer early can significantly improve survival chances. Dr. Rebecca Brightman, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at Mount Sinai, emphasizes the importance of paying attention to your body. “Women generally know what’s normal for them,” says Dr. Brightman. Noticing and acting on changes can lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment, which is important because most cases are found in later stages when the disease is harder to treat.

Dr. Mary Rosser, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia Medical School, adds, “The benefit of being diagnosed early is that you have a better chance at survival because you will have earlier, better treatment.” Indeed, about 94% of patients diagnosed early with ovarian cancer live more than five years post-diagnosis.

Early Signs of Ovarian Cancer

Here are eight early signs of ovarian cancer that you should be aware of:

  • Feeling Full Quickly

Another symptom linked to ovarian cancer is feeling full after eating only a small amount of food. This is often due to ascites, a fluid buildup in the abdomen, which can also lead to weight loss. If you find yourself losing weight without trying and feeling full quickly, it is time to consult a doctor.

  • Indigestion

Persistent indigestion or discomfort in the abdomen can be an early sign of ovarian cancer. Studies have shown that indigestion and general stomach discomfort are common symptoms in the months leading up to an ovarian cancer diagnosis. Heartburn can also be a related symptom.

  • Bloating

Bloating is a common and noticeable symptom of ovarian cancer. Dr. Rosser highlights that 89% of early-stage ovarian cancer patients report bloating. If you experience persistent bloating, especially if it is unusual for you, it is essential to visit your healthcare provider.

  • Irregular Bleeding

Irregular bleeding, particularly post-menopausal bleeding, can indicate ovarian cancer, especially stromal tumors, which are rare but do produce estrogen that can cause bleeding. Any unexpected bleeding should be checked by a doctor immediately.

  • Pelvic or Abdominal Pain

Pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis, similar to menstrual cramps, is another symptom. This pain can be misleading because it often mimics common menstrual discomfort. However, for postmenopausal women, pelvic pain is a red flag that should prompt immediate medical evaluation.

  • Difficulty Breathing

Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath can occur due to ascites or large tumors pressing against the lungs. This symptom can appear in later stages but might also be an early indicator.

  • Frequent Urination

Feeling the need to urinate more often than usual can be an early warning sign. Tumors in the pelvic area can press against the bladder or urinary tract, causing this symptom. While frequent urination can be caused by other conditions, it is important to rule out ovarian cancer if this symptom appears.

  • Back Pain

Chronic back pain, especially when it is not related to physical activity or an obvious injury, can be a sign of ovarian cancer. Many ovarian cancer patients report back pain that persists for months before diagnosis. If you experience unexplained back pain, it is important to see a doctor for a check-up.

What to Do If You Notice Symptoms?

If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to listen to your body and seek medical advice. Regular check-ups and being attuned to your body’s changes can help in catching potential issues early.

To summarize, it can be said that ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect early, but paying attention to these signs can lead to early diagnosis and better treatment outcomes. If you experience any of these symptoms persistently, consult your healthcare provider for a thorough examination.

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