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Only about19 percent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed in the early stages. There is currently no single early detection test to effectively screen for the disease. That's why you should consult your physician if you experience any of the following signs and symptoms consistently for over a two week period. 

  1. Changes in appetite, trouble eating, feeling full fast

  2. Menstrual changes

  3. Abdominal bloating, increasing size, heaviness

  4. Pelvic discomfort, cramping

  5. Frequent urination

  6. Fatigue, or low energy, and shortness of breath

  7. Unintentional weight loss

  8. Gastrointestinal disturbances

  9. Leg swelling

1. Changes in Appetite

Yes, there are many possible explanations for variations in your appetite. But if you have unexplained changes that cannot be explained by temporary digestive disturbances or stress, it's important to bring your symptoms to the attention of your healthcare provider. Changes in appetite can be one of the first signs of ovarian cancer. Many women find they feel unusually full after eating a small amount of food. If you have ovarian cancer, you might find it difficult to finish even a small meal regardless of how hungry you felt before eating. Some women find eating causes nausea and vomiting. 

2. Menstrual Changes

Although irregular periods are not necessarily a sign of ovarian cancer, a history of irregular cycles can increase your risk. Some women diagnosed with ovarian cancer report menstruating more frequently than once each month or note spotting between periods. If you are not yet menopausal and suddenly have an irregular cycle or more period pain than usual, you should consider scheduling an appointment with your gynecologist. This is especially true if you are taking oral birth control. If you are post-menopausal, any unexpected bleeding should be investigated by your healthcare provider.

3. Abdominal Bloating

Bloating is a common complaint noted by researchers investigating the signs of ovarian cancer. Before they are diagnosed, many women initially assume their abdominal distention is caused by age, fluid retention, or unhealthy diet. The bloating caused by ovarian cancer can be mild or severe. Some women find their bloating so pronounced they need to buy larger clothes. An expanded waistline can be caused by increasing tumor size or by fluid retention in the abdomen (ascites) experienced by people with liver disease or some types of cancer. Abdominal bloating may be accompanied by digestive disturbances or changes in appetite, but you can experience bloating or increased girth with or without abdominal discomfort.

4. Pelvic Discomfort

Since period pain is common and most often considered normal, many women initially blame their menstrual cycles for the pelvic discomfort caused by ovarian cancer. Some blame digestive disturbances, noting heartburn, bloating, constipation, and gas. But it's important to know that pelvic pain in your abdomen, hip area, or lower back could be a sign of ovarian cancer. When tumors spread in the abdomen or pelvis, they can irritate tissues in your lower back. If pelvic discomfort is new to you, or increases in intensity, consider scheduling an appointment with your gynecologist.

5. Frequent Urination

Your bladder and ovaries are close together. Tumors or swelling in or around your ovaries can cause urinary disturbances. Many women with ovarian cancer find they feel the urge to urinate more frequently in the weeks or months before their diagnosis. Some assume they have a urinary tract infection because the symptoms are similar. If you have ovarian cancer you may notice increased urgency, burning pain with urination, bladder spasms, or difficulty emptying your bladder.

6. Low Energy or Fatigue

Ordinarily, a little rest is all you should need to recover when you feel tired. If you find you have significantly less energy than usual or do not feel refreshed after an adequate amount of sleep, it's important to notify your health care provider. Scheduling an appointment is particularly important if constant fatigue is interfering with your ability to enjoy your usual activities. Although there are numerous potential causes of unrelenting fatigue, loss of energy and fatigue can be a sign of ovarian cancer.

7. Unintentional Weight Loss

If you've lost more than five percent of your body weight over the past six to twelve months without changes to your diet or exercise habits, it may be time to consult your physician. Nearly 40 percent of people first diagnosed with cancer report unexplained weight loss. Women with advanced ovarian cancer may also experience cachexia, a syndrome resulting in weight loss and muscle wasting. Cachexia can be caused by substances manufactured by tumors or an immune system response to the disease itself.    

8. Gastrointestinal Disturbances

Gastrointestinal symptoms are the most commonly reported complaints leading to an ovarian cancer diagnosis. Women ignoring gastrointestinal disturbances are considerably more likely to be diagnosed in the later stages of the disease. That's why it may be important to know that many of the initial signs of ovarian cancer mimic the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, a condition caused by hypersensitivity in the small intestine. Since both conditions can cause abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation, women experiencing IBS symptoms for three weeks or more should talk with their doctor about ovarian cancer testing. 


9. Leg Swelling

One of the first signs of ovarian cancer could be fluid retention in your feet, ankles, or lower legs. Fluid accumulation could cause your legs to feel unusually heavy.  As swelling progresses, your skin may look stretched or shiny. Swollen areas may remain indented after applying pressure, a condition known as pitting edema. Although leg swelling can be caused by several unrelated health concerns, ovarian cancer is one of several cancer types known to cause edema. About 20 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer develop leg swelling.

If you have any of these concerning symptoms for more than 12 days per month, or if you have consistent symptoms for more than two weeks, you should see your doctor.  Pay attention to your body, be aware of changes in your health, and don't assume it's a "normal" monthly, or menopausal symptom.  Any unusual symptoms should not be ignored.

You know your body best, and must advocate for yourself.  


The 9 Signs of Ovarian Cancer Every Woman Needs to Know

Categories: Ovarian CancerGynecologic Cancer

March 4, 2020

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