Early Diagnosis is Key for Ovarian Cancer
The American Cancer Society estimates that 21,410 women in the United States will receive a new diagnosis for ovarian cancer in 2021, and about 13,770 will die due to the disease.
Unfortunately for women who get it, ovarian cancer commonly goes undetected until it has spread to the pelvis and abdomen. And while it's true that a woman is more likely to experience the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer after the disease has already spread, early-stage ovarian cancer has also been known to cause symptoms in some cases.
Some of the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- Pain in the pelvis or abdomen
- Changes in menstruation
- Extreme tiredness
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Abdominal swelling
- Sudden weight loss
- Pain during sex
- Back pain
- Persistent urge to urinate
- Frequent urination
If you have one or more of these symptoms, don't panic. It's important to note that while these conditions can all be symptoms of ovarian cancer, they can also be caused by non-cancerous diseases, conditions or even other types of cancer.
When should you consult a doctor?
Because the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be caused by other less dangerous health conditions, women can find it difficult to know when they should be concerned. But certain factors set ovarian cancer symptoms apart. According to medical experts, ovarian cancer symptoms tend to be persistent and progressive, meaning they start to occur more frequently and severely over time.
The American Cancer Society recommends that individuals consult their doctor if they experience any potential symptoms of ovarian cancer more than 12 times in a month.
Getting an ovarian cancer diagnosis
To test for ovarian cancer, a doctor will likely start by performing a pelvic exam. During the exam, the doctor will insert gloved fingers into the vagina and press on the abdomen to check the pelvic organs for any abnormalities.
Imaging tests might follow. An ultrasound or CT (computed tomography) scan of the abdomen and pelvis can help the doctor better examine the ovaries. The doctor may also recommend blood tests, a check on organ function, an assessment of your overall health and a search for tumor markers, such as cancer antigens in the blood.
In some cases, a doctor may not be able to conclusively reach a diagnosis without surgery, during which a surgeon may remove an ovary and have it tested for cancer.
Based on one or a combination of these tests, your doctor will be able to tell you whether you have ovarian cancer. The tests also help determine whether the cancer is still in the early stages or has spread to nearby organs.
Ovarian cancer, like other cancers, has higher rates of successful treatment when caught early. The disease most often occurs in postmenopausal women, but certain groups of younger women, such as those who carry a BRCA gene mutation, should undergo increased surveillance. People with a BRCA gene mutation are more likely to develop breast cancer, and more likely to develop cancer at a younger age.
To increase your chance of detecting and addressing abnormalities as soon as they arise, be sure to maintain regular preventive healthcare checkups and alert your doctor if you experience any persistent symptoms.