In most cases, ovarian cancer goes undiagnosed until it progresses to an advanced stage. As estimated by the American Cancer Society, only 20% of the cases are diagnosed at an early stage. Though ovarian cancer signs are difficult to notice at the onset, some early symptoms of the condition are common to other health illnesses, which proves beneficial in identifying the disease.
Because the early signs of ovarian cancer are highly common, women tend to either ignore them. They are usually passed as routine conditions without paying much heed. However, if these ovarian cancer signs are treated in time, several women can help themselves from aggressive cancer. For early-stage ovarian cancer, the five-year survival rate is 80%-90%, whereas, for advanced stages it is about 28% to 40%.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
Below is a list of early symptoms of ovarian cancer that one should look out for. If any of these symptoms persist, consult a doctor at the earliest.
Bloating is a common condition where the abdomen feels tight and full. Continued bloating and swelling of the abdominal area are one of the early signs of ovarian cancer, which are caused by indigestion, periods, or fluid build-up (ascites). There are many reasons that cause the build-up of ascites in the stomach. It is recommended to seek help if the condition still persists.
Feeling of fullness
Ovarian cancer can cause one to feel full quickly. Because of the pressure it creates in the stomach and the abdominal area, it affects the appetite. Besides feeling full, one may also lose the appetite and find it difficult to finish small meals.
Many women experience prolonged and persistent back pain without any deterministic cause. While there can be multiple reasons for back pain, ovarian cancer could be one of them.
Discomfort in the pelvic and abdominal area
Discomfort or pain experienced in the pelvic and the abdominal region continuously for more than three weeks should be immediately brought to the attention of the doctor, for this could be an early sign of ovarian cancer. While it is a relatively rare symptom, one should try to identify if this is a new occurrence without any prior health condition.
Unexplained physical weakness should never be taken lightly as it is one of those symptoms that persistently show up but are often ignored.
Constipation or diarrhea
Ovarian cancer affects bowel movement. One may feel constipated or experience disturbed bowel movements in the form of frequent diarrhea. If these symptoms are experienced despite regular doctor’s intervention, it is time to get checked for ovarian cancer.
One of the most common and evident early signs of ovarian cancer is a change in urinary habits. One may feel the urge to urinate often, much more than their normal, regular pattern. Also, there can be constant pressure or mild pain in the bladder. While all these can be symptoms of bladder issues, they are also related to gynecological complications.
Pain during intercourse
Unexplained pain during intercourse can be an ovarian cancer sign. It is indicative of some other health issue, for it is not healthy or normal to experience pain. This could happen for several other conditions, like excess or lack of hormonal release or urinary tract infection.
Changes in the menstrual cycle
Ovarian cancer can cause changes in the menstrual cycle. Sudden and persistent bleeding, abnormally longer menstrual cycles, extremely reduced bleeding, and missed periods can be early symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Treatment options for ovarian cancer
These are the treatment options deployed for patients with ovarian cancer.
These options treat the specific organ without affecting other parts of the body. Surgery and radiation therapy are two examples of such treatment options for ovarian cancer. The former includes steps like staging, debulking, and intraoperative imaging, while the latter makes use of external beams or, in rare cases, brachytherapy (a device containing radioactive pellets is placed near the affected organ) to shrink the cancerous tumor.
Systemic treatments are administered orally or intravenously. It can spread throughout the body and gradually eliminate cancer cells. Chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and hormone therapy are systemic therapies for ovarian cancer.
Other treatment options
Either before or after the surgery – and in some cases – patients may need other types of treatments. These include treatments for stromal tumors of the ovary, epithelial tumors of low malignant potential, germ cell tumors of the ovary, or stage-wise invasive epithelial ovarian cancers. These treatment options are based on the type and stage of advancement of ovarian cancer.
Since ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose at initial stages and most of the early symptoms of ovarian cancer are highly nonspecific, several ovarian cancer signs may go unnoticed. It is best to be aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer and if any of the listed signs persist for a while, visit your doctor to get a thorough check-up done.