Ovarian Cancer Facts & Symptoms

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YOU can be the difference in the fight against ovarian cancer just by being aware.

22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year. Unfortunately, more than 50% of women will die within five years of diagnosis.

Diagnosing ovarian cancer:

As with all cancers, early detection of ovarian cancer is key to survival. When diagnosed early, ovarian cancer patients have a 90% chance of survival.

The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance conducted a survey in which 89% of women were unaware of ovarian cancer symptoms before being diagnosed. However, 81% of the respondents realize in hindsight that symptoms existed before diagnosis, with these symptoms being confused with irritable bowel syndrome, pre-menopause, stress, acid reflux, endometriosis, gall bladder issues or other ailments.
Correct diagnoses occur only slightly more often than incorrect diagnoses. Only 59% of women are correctly diagnosed, but at least 41% of women are treated for other conditions before being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Although a reliable, routine early detection tool currently does not exist to test for ovarian cancer (like a mammogram for breast cancer or a Pap test for cervical cancer), there are several tests for women who are considered “high risk”. If a woman has a family history of ovarian cancer, a BRCA gene mutation or is experiencing symptoms consistent to that of ovarian cancer, her doctor may monitor her using a combination of the following tests:

Pelvic Exam:

A pelvic exam is unlikely to reveal early forms of ovarian cancer, but it can still be used as a tool for helping doctors detect variations from baseline conditions. It is highly recommended that women have mandatory annual pelvic exams beginning at age 18.

Transvaginal Ultrasound:

Usually performed as a precaution among women at high risk for developing ovarian cancer or after a woman has an abnormal pelvic exam, this imaging technique examines the reproductive organs and bladder. However, the transvaginal ultrasound is limited in its ability to detect ovarian cancer in its early stages.

CA-125 test:

This blood test measures levels or CA-125, a blood-borne protein produced by some ovarian cancer cells and by other non-cancerous conditions. However, because this blood test may yield a false positive in the presence of non-cancerous conditions as well, it has limited capacity for detecting ovarian cancer in early stages.

These tests are most effective when used in combination with each other – they are NOT definitive by themselves. If preliminary test results suggest the presence of ovarian cancer, doctors may conduct a CT or PET scan as part of the diagnostic process.

The only conclusive way to determine if a patient has ovarian cancer is through biopsy.

The battle against ovarian cancer starts with finding an early detection test that is performed on all women as routinely as the mammogram and Pap test are performed to screen for their respective cancers.

Signs and Symptoms of ovarian cancer:

In most cases, ovarian cancer isn’t diagnosed until it has progressed to an advanced stage. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, only about 20 percent of cases are diagnosed at an early stage. Typically, this is because ovarian cancer symptoms either aren’t apparent in the early stages of the disease or they mimic common stomach and digestive issues that are often mistaken for minor ailments. Women are more likely to experience symptoms once the disease has spread beyond the ovaries.

As scientists and researchers continue to pursue reliable screening methods for the early detection of ovarian cancer, it is imperative that all women understand their risk level for ovarian cancer and the signs and symptoms.

Remember, early detection is essential to a better prognosis. If any of these symptoms last for more than two weeks, please contact your doctor.

Know the symptoms of ovarian cancer:

  • General abdominal discomfort or pain (gas, indigestion, pressure, swelling, bloating, cramps)
  • Bloating and/or a feeling of fullness, even after a light meal
  • Nausea, diarrhea, constipation or frequent urination
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Menstrual changes

Know the Risk Factors of Ovarian Cancer:

  •     Close family members who have had ovarian, breast or gastrointestinal cancer
  •     Have a genetic mutation such as BRCA1 or BRCA2
  •     Have had breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer
  •     Have never given birth or have had trouble getting pregnant
  •     Are middle-aged or older

*Source: MD Anderson Cancer Center