Spotting the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
- Ovarian cancer symptoms like bloating, fatigue, and belly pain are typically subtle and can mimic common conditions
- The frequency and duration of symptoms can be clues that point to ovarian cancer
- The diagnosis typically starts with a health history, physical exam, and review of symptoms
- If the initial exam isn’t conclusive, tests like a pelvic exam or ultrasound may help with the diagnosis
Because the signs and symptoms can be so hard to pinpoint, women may miss them until their cancer has already spread, when it’s more difficult to treat. This cancer is highly treatable if caught early; however, according to the American Cancer Society, only about 20% of ovarian cancers are diagnosed early.
Watch for SymptomsRead More
- Feeling bloated
- Feeling full more often/more easily
- Abdominal swelling
- Pain in the pelvis or abdomen
- Back pain
- Changes in bowel habits
- Pain during sex
- Nausea or vomiting
If you’re noticing that you’re having these symptoms and they begin happening on more days than not, they’re persisting, and you can’t think of a reason why they would be coming on, that’s when you need to bring it to your doctor’s attention.
Getting an Exam
Notifying your doctor immediately of any persistent symptoms is a crucial step toward getting a timely diagnosis. The first thing you’ll typically do is see the doctor for an exam and health history.
The doctor will ask when your symptoms started, and whether anything in particular caused them. The physical exam can involve feeling for any lumps or swelling in your abdomen.
Other tests included in the ovarian cancer diagnostic process can include a:
- Family medical history, since ovarian cancer can be inherited
- Pelvic exam to examine the ovaries and uterus
- Transvaginal ultrasound, which uses sound waves to look at the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries
- CA-125 blood test — a marker that helps to detect ovarian tumors
- Trial of medication to see if your symptoms improve
Unfortunately, there is no screening test to detect ovarian cancer at this time. Researchers are hard at work trying to develop screening tests that can help with early detection. For this reason, it’s important for your doctor to have a full scope of your medical history, know your symptoms, perform a physical exam, and do lab work and additional testing, to make an accurate diagnosis.
Your Treatment Options
Once you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you, and together, you’ll form a plan. Ovarian cancer has two main treatments: surgery and chemotherapy. Most women will get both therapies. The only question is the order in which you get them.
“When a person is newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer, surgery could be done first, followed by chemotherapy,” says Dr. ElNaggar. “Or, it can be done where chemotherapy is given initially to decrease the volume of disease, followed by surgery and more chemotherapy.”
The extent of disease often dictates which treatment women get to start. For most women, surgery is the first step. However, when doctors aren’t sure they can remove all of the visible cancer, they may decide to do chemotherapy first.
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