September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a good time to the review the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. That’s because the symptoms can be hard to detect, especially when ovarian cancer is in its early stages.
Though it is less common than breast cancer, ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. That’s due, in part, to the location of your ovaries. Your ovaries are two small, almond-shaped organs on either side of your uterus. They’re located deep within the abdominal cavity.
According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are usually vague or silent, and only 19 percent of early stage ovarian cancers are diagnosed. So, let’s look at the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Most Common Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
To make it easier to understand what you might be experiencing, you can categorize the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer in five different ways, beginning with the most common signs. Early-stage ovarian cancer can cause very common symptoms, which include:
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms such as urgency (always feeling like you have to go) or frequency (having to go often)
It’s easy to overlook the early signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer because they’re similar to other common illnesses, or they tend to come and go.
Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer: Pain
Many women with ovarian cancer say pain is one of the first symptoms they experienced. The pain will occur in your abdomen or pelvis. It often occurs during sex.
Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer: Gastrointestinal Problems
Most women with ovarian cancer have previous abdominal or gastrointestinal complaints. This often causes a delay in diagnosis because neither patients nor physicians recognize these early warning signs and symptoms, including:
- Change in bowel habits
- Fluid in the abdomen
- Indigestion or nausea
Ovarian cancer is sometimes mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome, but the signs and symptoms of IBS that do not occur with ovarian cancer include:
- Changes in the stool frequency and consistency
- Passing mucus from the rectum
- The feeling of being unable to empty the bowels
Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer: Abdominal abnormalities
If you’re feeling a lump in your abdomen, take it seriously. This is one of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer: Whole body issues
The signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer include some that may affect your whole body, not just one particular area. These are cancer-related fatigue and loss of appetite.
Some of the signs of cancer-related fatigue include:
- Feeling tired and it doesn’t get better; the fatigue keeps recurring or becoming severe
- Being more tired than usual during or after an activity
- Feeling tired and it’s not related to an activity
Even though fatigue is a troublesome symptom, doctors and nurses don’t focus on it, and patients and caregivers seldom report it.
Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer: Weight Loss
The residual effect of appetite loss is weight loss. Weight loss is common with more advanced ovarian cancers but may also be an early symptom related to this sense of fullness in the abdominal or pelvic region.
You should see your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, especially if you have some of the risk factors like:
- A family history of ovarian cancer
- Genetic mutations of genes associated with ovarian cancer, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2
- A personal history of breast, uterine or colon cancer
The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown. So, it’s important to pay attention to what your body is telling you. An early diagnosis is critical.
The American Cancer Society recommends seeing your doctor or gynecologist if you experience these symptoms more than 12 times a month. Your doctor will most likely want to do a pelvic exam if ovarian cancer is suspected.
Cancer is just one of the concerning health issues as women age. To learn more about some of the others, download our guide to women’s health: “Health Heart, Healthy Life”. In it you’ll learn which screenings you should be getting now and how often.