Why you should detect ovarian cancer early if possible.
Here at UT Health East Texas HOPE Cancer Center, we’ve been helping East Texans fight cancer for over 30 years. We want everyone to be proactive and vigilant in their own personal detections of ovarian cancer. As we know how dramatically a cancer diagnosis can affect someone’s life.
Ovarian cancer can be challenging to detect in its early stages because the ovaries are small and located deep within the abdomen, therefore any growths that might be on them can be hard for a doctor to feel. Also, it can often be difficult to diagnose ovarian cancer early because the symptoms are similar to those of other conditions. Only 20% of all ovarian cancer cases are discovered in the early stages. Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. In this later stage, ovarian cancer can be more difficult to treat—but certainly not impossible. Early-stage ovarian cancer, however, where the disease is confined to the ovary, is more likely to be treated successfully.
You may be wondering, “What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?” Not to worry, there are many telltale signs you may have ovarian cancer. So we are going to tell you all you need to know about determining the early warning signs and symptoms of this rare and dangerous disease.
What are the chances of having ovarian cancer?
It is estimated that ovarian cancer affects over 22,000 American women this year alone. Surgery and chemotherapy are typically used to treat ovarian cancer.
Only around 19 percent of ovarian cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, according to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC). The chances of a woman getting ovarian cancer in her lifetime are about 1 in 75, and her lifetime chance of ovarian cancer being fatal is 1 in 100, according to the American Cancer Society.
What are the early warning signs of ovarian cancer?
Early-stage ovarian cancer rarely causes any symptoms. Advanced-stage ovarian cancer may cause few and nonspecific symptoms. It should also be noted that these symptoms are often mistaken for more common benign conditions.
These symptoms of ovarian cancer can develop at any stage of the condition. They include:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain or cramping
It is very common for tumors growing in the pelvis to cause pain in the lower abdomen. This uncomfortable feeling is similar to period cramps, so many women assume these tummy troubles are harmless.
- Feeling full quickly after starting to eat or lack of appetite
Ascites, the same fluid buildup that causes some ovarian cancer patients to feel bloated, may also result in a loss of appetite or feeling full more quickly.
- Indigestion or upset stomach
- Feeling like you have to urinate more frequently or urgently than normal
Sometimes you might feel the urge to pee, but when you try only a little trickle (or even nothing) may come out. An increased urge to urinate occurs when ovarian cancer cells have studded the outside of the bladder wall or when ascites in the pelvis compresses the bladder, causing women to feel like they have to urinate more frequently.
- Unexplained exhaustion
Pain or pressure in the lower back or pelvis Women with ovarian cancer can experience back pain when fluid accumulates in the pelvis or when the tumor spreads in the abdomen or pelvis, directly irritating tissue in the lower back.
- Bloating and/or constipation
You may experience frequent heartburn or gas for months leading up to an ovarian cancer diagnosis. This is common among ovarian cancer patients who tend to experience general discomfort in the abdomen, including bloating and gas.
- Increase abdominal girth or abdominal swelling
- Pain while having sex
- Unexplained pain while having sexual intercourse can be a warning symptom of ovarian cancer.
Menstrual changes Changes in a woman’s period, such as heavier bleeding than normal or irregular bleeding can be a symptom of ovarian cancer. There are other factors besides age that can cause a woman to have more periods, and therefore increasing the risk of ovarian cancer. Some of these are experiencing menopause after age 50, menstruating before age 12, and never having children, or giving birth for the first time after age 30.
- Weight loss
Sudden weight loss when you are not on a diet or have not changed your exercise habits can be a warning sign of ovarian cancer. However, keep in mind these symptoms can be due to a variety of other conditions. Often they will respond to basic treatment or go away on their own.
- Difficulty breathing
Late-stage ovarian cancer can bring on breathing troubles. As tumors grow large, they may begin to press against the lungs and obstruct a patient’s ability to inhale and exhale.
Causes and Risk Factors of Ovarian Cancer
It is often unclear what specifically causes ovarian cancer, though doctors have identified factors that can increase the risk of the disease.
Factors that can increase your risk of ovarian cancer include:
- Older age Ovarian cancer can occur at any age, however, is most common in women ages 50 to 60 years.
- Inherited gene mutations.
A small percentage of ovarian cancers are caused by gene mutations you inherit from your parents. The genes known to increase the risk of ovarian cancer are called breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2). These genes also increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Other gene mutations.
Some other gene mutations that can cause ovarian cancer include those associated with Lynch syndrome.
- Family history of ovarian cancer.
People with two or more close relatives with ovarian cancer have an increased risk of the disease.
- Estrogen hormone replacement therapy.
Estrogen hormone replacement therapy can be a cause of ovarian cancer, especially with long-term use and in large doses. Age when menstruation started and ended. Beginning menstruation at an early age or starting menopause at a later age, or both may increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
When to see a doctor for ovarian cancer?
Many of these aforementioned symptoms may have less threatening causes. Please don’t panic if you have been experiencing some of these causes of ovarian cancer. Experiencing some of the signs and symptoms associated with ovarian cancer does not necessarily mean that you have the disease. Ovarian cancer truly cannot be self-diagnosed at home. Diagnosis for ovarian cancer requires a variety of tests and usually the expertise of a specialist. A CT scan can help a doctor diagnose ovarian cancer.
If you live in the East Texas area and you have already been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, or another variety and you are seeking proper treatment, then please book an appointment with us at UT Health East Texas HOPE Cancer Center.