May 30, 2023

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms You Shouldn't Miss

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms You Shouldn't Miss

When thinking about your reproductive health, a lot of women assume that an annual Pap test will check them for “female” cancers. However, that particular test only checks for cervical cancer. Ovarian cancer does not have a standard screening test at this time.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague and can be easily overlooked or dismissed. That makes ovarian cancer hard to detect. Because of this, many women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are at an advanced stage, making it more challenging to treat.

We want women to become familiar with symptoms associated with ovarian cancer so you can take note and be more proactive about your health. As we mentioned, these are a little bit “vague” because they can be a sign of a non-cancerous condition or even just eating out a few nights in a row! Here are some things you should discuss with your gynecologist if you notice them continuing for more than a few weeks at a time.

6 Subtle Signs That Could Point to Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer symptoms show up in different ways for different people, so it’s important to be familiar with what's normal for your body and what isn’t. It’s likely you’ll know something is out of the ordinary if any of these six signs linger for more than a couple of weeks:

  1. Changes in eating habits

  2. Bloating without another cause

  3. Frequent or urgent urination

  4. Unusual vaginal bleeding

  5. Discomfort or pain in the pelvis

  6. Low energy

Keep in mind that having a symptom of ovarian cancer doesn’t mean the symptom is actually caused by ovarian cancer! Take note, however, if a symptom appears so you can tell your doctor how long it’s been going on and if there is more than one symptom. That can help the healthcare provider put together a better picture of what may be going on.

1. Changes in Eating Habits

As ovarian cancer grows in the pelvis, it can result in a buildup of fluid in the area around the stomach. This is referred to as ascites. This pressure on the stomach from the fluid tells your body the stomach is full even when it's really not. If you notice yourself getting full quickly or losing your appetite, especially with any of the other symptoms, talk to your doctor.

2. Bloating and Gas

A variety of factors, such as your food choices, menopause, or a menstrual cycle, can trigger bloating. Just like appetite changes, bloating can also be triggered by ascites. Bloating, or any upper abdominal discomfort, such as gassiness, indigestion, and heartburn, can sometimes be a sign of ovarian cancer. If you notice consistent and uncomfortable bloating, gas, heartburn, or indigestion, have your abdomen looked at by your primary care physician.

3. Urgent or Frequent Urination

As we get older, it’s pretty common to have to use the restroom more often or suddenly feel like you have to go right now. While it can be part of the aging process, it can also be an ovarian cancer symptom. Ovarian cancer can cause bladder-related issues, such as having the sudden urge to urinate. If there is a tumor in the pelvis crowding the bladder, you might start to feel like you need to use the restroom more often. A doctor will be able to diagnose the cause of this condition, which is often not related to cancer, so that you can find relief.

4. Unusual Vaginal Bleeding

This is most concerning if you have bleeding or spotting and you’ve already gone through menopause. Irregular vaginal bleeding is not a typical presentation of ovarian cancer, but it’s something to be aware of since it could be a sign. If you haven’t been through menopause yet, this could be related to your menstrual cycle starting to change as you get older or a hormone imbalance that allows bleeding between periods. Bleeding also sometimes occurs in women after intercourse.

See your gynecologist if you have unusual vaginal bleeding. Even if it’s not related to a cancerous condition, there could be other factors that the doctor should address.

5. Discomfort or Pain in the Pelvis

Pain in the abdomen, hips, or pelvis is a common ovarian cancer symptom that can be easy to ignore. Pain can include discomfort during sex, back pain, upset stomach, and constipation. These symptoms can be attributed to issues other than cancer, but be sure to see a doctor to determine a cause if this type of pain lasts more than a few weeks.

6. Unexplained Lack of Energy

Cancer can cause hormone levels and proteins to get out of their normal ranges and cause inflammation in the body. This can lead to exhaustion and fatigue. Having a set schedule and eating well are the first steps to take in eliminating other potential triggers if you feel this way.

While these are the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer, they are not exclusive. Some other reported symptoms are unexplained weight loss, non-bloody vaginal discharge, and nausea.

Read our related blog: 6 Signs of Gynecologic Cancers to Watch For.

Who Is At Risk for Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer can affect anyone, but certain factors can increase those chances. Common risk factors include:

  • Being overweight or obese

  • Being middle-aged or older

  • A personal history of prior cancers, such as breast or colon cancers

  • Having a family history of ovarian cancer related to a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene

  • Have been diagnosed with endometriosis

  • Having used estrogen hormone replacement therapy

  • Have experienced difficulty conceiving or have not given birth

  • Used talcum powder in the genital area for any period of time

These risk factors do not necessarily mean that you currently have or will ever develop ovarian cancer. But if you’re at a higher risk level and you notice a symptom or two, you should talk to your doctor sooner rather than later.

If you used to apply, or currently use, talcum powder in the genital area, you should mention this to your physician when discussing your level of risk.

If you are positive for the inherited BRCA gene mutation, your doctor may also discuss additional measures that can help prevent ovarian cancer, such as a hysterectomy that also removes the ovaries. There are side effects to this surgery that you should discuss with your doctor so you can make the right choice for you.

Detecting Ovarian Cancer With Screening

As with other cancers, early detection makes a huge difference in how easy it is to treat ovarian cancer.

It’s important to have an annual pelvic exam so that your doctor can note anything unusual when they do the exam. And remember, even if a tumor is found, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s cancer. Several different types of cysts are common on the ovaries and can cause some of the same symptoms.

If you’re considered high-risk, your doctor may recommend a blood test that can be helpful in detecting ovarian cancer soon. However, it’s not an official screening tool that is approved for use by all women. This is partly because the blood test can also show elevated numbers caused by several different non-cancerous conditions.

If you believe that you are experiencing abnormal symptoms or are at risk for ovarian cancer, schedule an appointment soon with your gynecologist. You don’t have to wait until your annual visit.

Expert Ovarian Cancer Care in South Chicago

The Affiliated Oncologists team includes gynecologic oncologists. They care for women with gynecologic cancers, including surgery if needed. They also work with other members of our cancer center team to provide additional treatments, including radiation therapy, if needed. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, we are here to create a personalized treatment plan. We’re also available to provide second opinions on a diagnosis and treatment plan. This is often covered by insurance.

Request an appointment today with one of our gynecologic cancer specialists. Our gynecologic cancer centers are located in Downers Grove and Oak Lawn, Illinois.

Categories: Gynecologic Cancers