Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among American women. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2019, more than 22,000 women will receive a diagnosis of, and more than 13,000 women will die from, ovarian cancer. As with any cancer, early diagnosis is key to successful treatment and long-term survival of ovarian cancer. The Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance reports that 46% of women with ovarian cancer survive five years past diagnosis. That number rises to 90% for those diagnosed in the earliest stages. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is known as the “silent killer,” as symptoms often go unnoticed or ignored.
10. Abdominal Pain or Cramping
Unfortunately, many of the warning signs of ovarian cancer are nonspecific symptoms that you may already experience on a regular basis. Abdominal pain and cramping are two such symptoms. Many women suffer painful periods and cramping throughout their reproductive years. However, changes in the frequency, pain level, and severity may be an indication that something new is going on. Don’t be afraid to contact your physician if you notice unusual symptoms of pain or cramping.
9. Back Pain or Pressure
Back pain is another nonspecific symptom that can point to many ailments. Muscle strain, arthritis, and poor posture can all lead to back pain. However, a buildup of fluid due to ovarian cancer can also lead to strain on the lower back. Furthermore, tumors may press against the tissues and muscles of the lower back region, causing sensations of pain and discomfort.
A stomach that is bloated, distended, or has suddenly swelled may indicate ovarian cancer. According to Rush University Medical Center, a bloated belly is often one of the first signs of ovarian cancer. Many women typically notice bloating around the time of their period. However, if bloating is a new symptom or is accompanied by a noticeably enlarged abdomen, it is critical to seek medical advice. Cancer-related bloating may not respond to normal lifestyle changes such as increasing water consumption, giving up carbonated beverages, or limiting salt intake.
7. Changes in Hair Growth
Hirsutism refers to the growth of coarse, dark hairs on the face or body. If unwanted facial hair begins popping out in unexpected places, hormonal changes are likely to blame. Medline Plus lists ovarian tumors, adrenal gland tumors, Cushing syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and hyperthecosis as possible causes for hirsutism. Rather than trying to bleach away the problem, check with your physician to get to the root of the problem. Conversely, some women notice a loss of hair due to the hormonal effects of ovarian cancer.
6. Constipation, Nausea, or Vomiting
When tumors are affecting your abdominal and pelvic regions, you may notice an effect on your digestive system. Constipation, nausea, and vomiting are unwelcome symptoms of many diseases and disorders. Add ovarian cancer to the list of possible culprits when you suffer from these symptoms. It can be difficult to pinpoint the cause of these symptoms. Therefore, it is wise to contact your doctor if you experience frequent, unexplained symptoms of stomach distress or gastrointestinal issues.
5. Easily Tiring and Extreme Fatigue
It may take you a while to realize that cancer has invaded your body. However, your immune system has already been at work trying to fight off this unwanted intruder. One of the first signs your body is at war may be extreme fatigue and excessive tiredness. If, despite adequate amounts of rest, you are chronically tired, get yourself to the doctor for a checkup. Finding yourself unable to complete normal daily tasks or finding it too exhausting to get out of bed in the morning are red flags that something serious is wrong.
4. Feeling Unusually Full
Symptoms of uncomfortable fullness after eating small amounts of food may be an indication of ovarian cancer. A loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss is another possible warning sign of ovarian cancer. While you may visit your gynecologist each year for a physical exam, ovarian tumors are often not detectable in the early stages. This makes it critically important to pay attention to the clues your body sends you that something has gone awry.
3. Frequent Urination
Add ovarian cancer to the list of medical conditions that may present as frequent urination or an excessive need to pee. Other conditions that trigger frequent trips to the restroom include diabetes, a kidney or urinary tract infection, bladder stones, and vaginal inflammation. If you are constantly excusing yourself to use the bathroom or wake several times in the night to empty your bladder, contact your physician.
2. Irregular Menstrual Cycles
Perhaps your period has always arrived every 28 days like clockwork. Alternatively, you may have experienced irregular periods throughout your reproductive years. Either way, if you experience sudden, drastic changes in the frequency, duration, heaviness, or timing of your monthly visitor, take notice. Keep in mind that the survival rate for ovarian cancer significantly decreases the longer it takes to obtain a diagnosis.
1. Painful Intercourse
Hormonal changes, as well as pressure and irritation in the pelvic area, can trigger ovarian cancer-related pain during sex. If an ovarian tumor is pressing against the vagina, sex may cause pain and discomfort. If you notice sudden dryness, irritation, or pain that interfere with sexual enjoyment, make sure to phone your doctor. Dr. Mitchel Hoffman of Moffitt Cancer Center states that when these symptoms are provoked by ovarian cancer, they are usually more severe and persistent than when caused by other disorders.