Ovarian cancer is often referred to as the “cancer that whispers,” according to Dr. Beth Karlan, Director of the Women’s Cancer Program at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. It has symptoms that are very vague and are often similar to the symptoms many women experience every month with their menstrual cycle. However, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, and they seem to be “crescendoing,” or getting worse, it is worth it to see a doctor to rule out ovarian cancer:
- Feeling full earlier/decrease in appetite
- Feeling bloated
- Changes in bowel habits
- Pain in the pelvis
- Urinary symptoms, such as an urgent need to go
- Extreme fatigue
- Abdominal swelling
- Pain during sex
It’s hard to connect these symptoms specifically with the ovaries because they could be caused by a whole host of other issues. That’s why Dr. Karlan, as well as many other top gynecologic oncologists in the U.S., urge women to be vigilant about getting tested if they feel that something is amiss with their bodies. Because many of these symptoms are associated with women’s menstrual cycles, this may mean being insistent with doctors who may want to write off symptoms.Read More
Ovarian cancer also tends to be diagnosed in older women; roughly half are diagnosed when they are over the age of 60. Because of this, many doctors will write off symptoms as signs of menopause. Since there is no screening test for ovarian cancer so far, only about 20% of cases are diagnosed in the early stages, according to the American Cancer Society.
In her conversation with SurvivorNet, Dr. Karlan also pointed out the average delay from the time a woman notices symptoms to the time that she is diagnosed with ovarian cancer is around 9 months.
“That’s why, if you do have these symptoms, even if it’s only for two weeks — but they’re happening everyday and seem to be getting worse, you should call your doctor and say, ‘I’m having these symptoms. I’m concerned it could be ovarian cancer. Can I have an ultrasound and a CA-125,'” Dr. Karlan said.
How do you test for ovarian cancer?
There is no screening test for ovarian cancer, but if you are experiencing symptoms, your doctor should do a workup to determine if you have cancer. This will consist of:
- Health history: Because ovarian cancer can be inherited, your doctor will want to do a survey of your family history to determine if genetic testing is required. This may alter the course of treatment if you do have cancer.
- Physical exam: This exam will include a pelvic exam, as well as a recto-vaginal examination where doctors will look at the tissues behind the uterus.
- Trans-vaginal ultrasound: This allows doctors to take a close-up look at the ovaries.
- CA-125 blood test: This test acts as a barometer to show doctors how many cells are infected with cancer, and later, whether those cells are responding to treatment.