Cancer, as a broad spectrum of disease, is currently one of the leading causes of death worldwide (1), and is responsible for 30% of all deaths in Canada — more than any other disease or possible cause (2). Ovarian cancer specifically was estimated to have 2800 new cases and 1750 deaths in Canada (3), and 22,280 new cases and 14,240 deaths in the United States in 2016 (4), according to the Canadian and American Cancer Societies.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer occurs when the cells of the ovaries develop tumors that become malignant. This type of cancer is known as the silent killer due to a perceived lack of symptoms and difficulty being detected with screening. Though most common in post-menopausal women, more and more cases show increased prevalence in women in their 30s and 40s, perhaps even younger. Research out of the UK found that early detection of cancer can drastically increase your chance of survival, so paying attention to your body and regular check-ins with your doctor are key.(5) (6)
The thing is, ovarian cancer is not silent, but quiet. There is currently no one reliable test: smear tests do not pick up malignant cysts, and even CA125 blood tests often give false negatives. (6) Another issue is that many of the symptoms are mistaken for other diseases, such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), leaving early-stage tumors undiagnosed until they reach stage 3, where they can present as lumps in the abdomen and pelvic area.
New research shows that there are signs and symptoms of early-stage ovarian cancer, and as women, we must be observant and know when something is a red flag.
4 Symptoms that may be signs of Ovarian Cancer:
- Persistent Bloating
If you notice you are getting bloated consistently and often (frequently happening for more than three weeks), where you weren’t before, this could be a sign of cancerous tumors growing.
- Lower Abdominal and Pelvic Pain
Think of all of the areas you may feel menstrual cramps – your lower stomach, pelvic region, perhaps even in your lower back. While pain during menstruation is normal, persistent pain that sticks around long after your period is gone (again, three weeks or more) could be a sign of ovarian cancer. This one is especially important for pre-menopausal women to watch out for because it is so easily passed off for period pain.
- Difficulty eating/feeling full quickly
If you notice a significant decrease in your appetite for a span longer than three weeks, talk to your doctor. While this could be a sign of a whole host of stomach, intestine, and bowel issues, it also may signify cancer.
- Increased need to urinate
If you find yourself visiting the ladies room at a much higher frequency, despite making no changes to liquid intake, or you are fine one minute and urgently need to pee the next, you may have early stages of ovarian cancer.
All of these symptoms can easily, and often are, mistaken for issues and diseases with the Gastrointestinal tract. If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms when you weren’t before, it is important to monitor their frequency and persistence. If they don’t go away after three weeks or more, make an appointment with your doctor to talk about getting checked for Ovarian Cancer.
As women, it is up to us to monitor our own health, as well inform the women in our lives so that they, too, recognize the symptoms of this potentially fatal disease. Help us fight ovarian cancer by sharing this article with your friends and family!