The Cancer that Whispers
- Symptoms for ovarian cancer are very subtle which make it difficult to detect early
- These symptoms can include bloating and a feeling of fullness
- Many other less serious conditions may include these same symptoms
- When symptoms last more than two weeks it’s time to get a medical evaluation by your doctor
In addition to feeling bloated or full, other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
- Back pain
- Pain during sex
- Upset stomach
- Weight loss and swelling around the abdomen
- Changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle, such as irregular or heavier bleeding
“Ovarian cancer is very difficult to detect and we have no effective screening,” says Dr. Diver. “We’ve looked at many different screening modalities in large trials, such as ultrasounds or blood tests like CA 125. Unfortunately, these haven’t been effective in detecting early ovarian cancer.”
The CA 125 test detects a marker in the blood that can become elevated with ovarian cancer. But the level may become elevated due to a number of other conditions, leading to a lot of false positive results for ovarian cancer. Doctors say the best use for this test is monitoring women who are being treated for ovarian cancer, as the test can help to detect a recurrence early.
Transvaginal ultrasound can detect masses in the ovaries or pelvis, but the exams are expensive and not practical to offer to all women. These tests can help determine the presence and the stage of ovarian cancer once the disease is suspected.
But that leaves most women and their doctors without a reliable way to detect the cancer early. That’s why it’s up to women to learn about the subtle symptoms and monitor themselves.
The Importance of Women’s Awareness
“I think it’s really important that women advocate for themselves when they know that something isn’t right with their bodies,” says Dr. Diver. “In general, the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be subtle, and they are symptoms that many of us experience for more mundane reasons, like a GI bug or on your period. However, for ovarian cancer, these symptoms tend to persist and they don’t go away with the time of the month or get better in a few days.” Dr. Diver urges women who are experiencing these symptoms for longer than two weeks to speak with their doctor and make sure to get a full medical evaluation.
“And if your symptoms have been persistent and you feel that your doctor is not listening to you adequately, you either need to be frank with your doctor and say that you’re worried about ovarian cancer, and ask if you’ve been checked for that. Or consider getting a second opinion.”