How to Watch for Ovarian Cancer Symptoms
- There are no screening methods for ovarian cancer, so knowing the symptoms is very important
- Symptoms may include bloating, bowel changes, feeling full right after eating, and difficulty breathing
- If you experience these symptoms, talk to your doctor
- Get a second opinion if you feel your questions have not been answered
“Ovarian cancer is sometimes referred to as ‘the cancer that whispers,’ simply because it’s kind of hard to catch,” says Dr. Derrick Haslem, medical oncologist at Intermountain Healthcare in Logan, Utah, near Salt Lake City. Knowing what symptoms to look for and alerting your doctor if you spot them can make a big difference in your treatment and prognosis. Catching cancers in their early stages leads to better outcomes.
Ovarian cancer is one of the more difficult cancers to detect early, mainly due to the lack of preventive services available for it. “There are no really good screening procedures for ovarian cancer, and it tends to sneak up on people,” says Dr. Haslem.
The lack of effective screening measures means that it is even more important to watch for symptoms of ovarian cancer, and talk to your doctor as soon as possible if they arise.
What Are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
- Abdominal distension (expansion of the abdomen)
- Swelling in the pelvic region
- Constipation and other digestive changes
- Feeling full quickly after eating
- Difficulty breathing
It’s easy to attribute these symptoms to causes like the flu, food poisoning, or another mild illness. That may be why many women don’t seek medical help until their symptoms have worsened or have persisted for a long time. By that time, the cancer may have progressed to a more advanced stage and be more difficult to treat.
If you have symptoms like these that are new, that aren’t attributable to any known cause, or that last for more than two weeks, report them to your doctor.
Be Your Own Advocate
Dr. Haslem stresses the importance of seeking help if you experience any of these symptoms. “Be your number one and biggest advocate,” he says. “If there are symptoms that are concerning for you, it is totally appropriate to continue to work with your provider; in this case a gynecologist, to really get a solid answer.”
If your healthcare provider has not answered all of your questions, it’s ok to continue to ask questions and press for answers until your doctor has satisfied your concerns and you have a definite answer to what is causing your symptoms.
Sometimes, this may mean getting a second opinion. “I think second opinions are great,” says Dr. Haslem. “It’s very important for a patient to be very comfortable with the plan of care going forward.”
Seeking a second opinion from another specialist can provide you with peace of mind, and also ensure that you receive the best possible care. “I think most doctors are very comfortable with second opinions that come from outside facilities and outside providers,” says Dr. Haslem.
Though it can be difficult to detect ovarian cancer in its early stages, knowing the symptoms and seeking help from a cancer specialist if you have them will ensure that you receive a prompt diagnosis and treatment. The earlier you’re diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the better your odds of a cure.