Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Ovarian cancer is a very serious disease that if not caught early can cause death. If you feel you have ovarian cancer symptoms, consult with your physician.

Ovarian cancer is a term that covers a few different cancers that occur from the epithelium cells of the ovary. These cancers occur in the fallopian tubes, epithelial ovarian, which are cells of the outer ovary lining, and the lining inside the abdomen called primary peritoneal cancer. Less common forms of ovarian cancer can occur within the ovary itself including sex cord-stromal tumors and germ cell tumors. There is also a condition called borderline ovarian tumors which have the appearance of cancer on a microscopic level but do not spread much.

What Are The Ovarian Cancer Symptoms?

There are a number of ovarian cancer symptoms and they also depend on whether the cancer has spread outside the ovary or not. Early symptoms include:

  • Pain in the pelvis or lower abdomen
  • Frequent bloating
  • Feeling full quickly while eating
  • Urgent need to urinate or frequent urination

These symptoms of early stage ovarian cancer typically come on suddenly, they will feel different from any common menstrual or digestive issues, and they happen daily without going away.

Later stage ovarian cancer symptoms, where it has spread outside the ovary include:

  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular periods
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods
  • Constipation
  • Back pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Pain during sex
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full immediately after eating
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Indigestion
  • Shortness of breath

When to See a Doctor

You should see your doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms every day and they last for two or three weeks. These symptoms can be common for many women due to menstrual or digestive issues but it is better to be safe.

Here is a link to an informative video about the symptoms of ovarian cancer: symptoms to be aware of

How Is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?

There are a number of tests your doctor can perform if he/she suspects ovarian cancer or if you experience ovarian cancer symptoms. These tests include:

1.    Blood Test

The chemical CA125 is sometimes produced by ovarian cancer cells and can be detected in the blood. While this test doesn’t necessarily mean cancer, as other conditions can produce CA125, your doctor can make an assessment when the results are combined with the symptoms above based on frequency and duration. This test may also be given if you are over the age of 50 or if you experience symptoms more than twelve times a year.

2.    Ultrasound

An ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to create a picture of your ovaries, allowing your doctor to see what they look like in terms of size and texture, as well as seeing if any cysts are present. You may have a transvaginal ultrasound where the probe is inserted into the vagina or an external ultrasound.

3.    Additional Tests

If your doctor has diagnosed you with ovarian cancer, further testing will usually be done to determine the size of the tumor and if the cancer has spread. This determines the stage of the cancer. These tests include:

  • Chest x-ray—to determine if the cancer has spread to your lungs or caused a build-up of fluid around the lungs.
  • CT scan or MRI—these tests are to look for cancer anywhere else in the abdomen or chest.
  • Laparoscopy—a thin tube with a camera on the end is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen to see the condition of the ovaries. At this time a small sample of tissue might be taken for biopsy.
  • Abdominal fluid aspiration—if there is a build-up of fluid in your abdomen a needle will be inserted for a sample of the fluid to be tested for cancer cells to determine if the cancer has spread.

What Are The Risks of Ovarian Cancer?

There are a number of risk factors for ovarian cancer that include:

Risk Factors

Description

Age

Ovarian cancer is most commonly seen in women over the age of 50 who have reached menopause and the risk continues to increase with age.

Family history and genetic

If you have two or more relatives who have had ovarian cancer your risk increases. Family history accounts for approximately fifteen percent of all cases of ovarian cancer.

Child-bearing history

Your risk of ovarian cancer increases if you have never had children, are unable to have children, have had children over the age of 30, or have never used oral contraceptives.

Endometriosis

This is a condition in which the uterine lining grows outside the uterus and it can increase your risk.

Hormonal factors

Early puberty with onset before the age of 12 and late menopause after the age of 50 can increase risk.

Lifestyle factors

Increased risk for ovarian cancer can be due to being obese, eating a high-fat diet, and smoking.

Other non-conclusive factors

Other factors that may increase risk of ovarian cancer include multiple exposure to fertility drugs, using estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy, and (more controversially) genital contact with talcum or asbestos.

Can Ovarian Cancer Be Prevented?

There are a few ways to lower your risk of ovarian cancer including eating a healthy diet that is low in fat and includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercise and physical activity, and taking birth control pills, which can lower your risk by as much as fifty percent.

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