Ovarian cancer, like many other debilitating forms of cancer, can devastate women and their families. Unfortunately, it is estimated that over 20,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year; it is also estimated that over 10,000 will likely pass away from this grim type of cancer as well. Women as a whole should be prepared to prevent and identify ovarian cancer symptoms. Since it is the ninth most common cancer affecting women, with a woman’s chance of being diagnosed 1 in 72, prevention and identification are the best ways to fight ovarian cancer. This form of cancer is not as widely understood by the public like others such as lung cancer or liver cancer; this is exactly why awareness of this secretive killer needs to be spread.
The Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
If a woman is already clearly demonstrating one or more of the risk factors for ovarian cancer, it is important to learn each of the symptoms below. This helps to ensure that cancer can be caught earlier rather than later. If it is suspected that a woman is displaying some of these ovarian cancer symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical assistance and evaluation as soon as possible. The symptom groups are as follows:
1- Pressure in the Abdomen, Sense of Fullness, Bloating, or Swelling
These different signs tend to be interlinked. As cancer cells develop within the ovary and begin to grow outward, they will exert pressure on the abdominal wall and surrounding organs. This effect can result in a host of similar symptoms from feeling slight pressure to feeling bloated or swollen. In some cases, the pressure or size of the growth can cause the patient to feel full in the stomach. This is a very serious red flag when it comes to ovarian cancer, as it usually indicates a later stage in the disease’s progression along with pain.
2- Pain or Discomfort within the Pelvis
A majority of the female reproductive system is located within the pelvis, including the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Since the ovaries rest so low, pelvic pain and discomfort will occur when the ovaries are injured due to cancer. The swelling can also place pressure upon the other organs in the pelvic area, such as the bladder. For those who are suffering an unbearable amount of pain or discomfort within the pelvis, it is quite possible that the cancer could be in an advanced stage. Pelvic pain should be reported to a primary care physician if it lasts for more than a few days and is not due to other conditions or illnesses; especially if it accompanies any of the additional warning signs below.
3- Frequent Gas, Indigestion, or Nausea
Indigestion and nausea are very common manifestations of ovarian cancer during the later stages. Generally, medication is used to alleviate these symptoms. These are common during the last lengths of ovarian cancer due to the overall feeling of being ill, in critical pain, and tired. Gas, along with other gastrointestinal issues, occurs with ovarian cancer and tends to be misdiagnosed. The cancer will greatly affect the gastrointestinal system and lower digestive system as it spreads throughout the ovaries and the body during later stages. For those who are afflicted with more advanced cases of this disease, it is crucial that they be provided with comfort and medication to combat the signs of illness; this assists them in the fight for recovery. It is a very dire and difficult situation when these characteristics of ovarian cancer are associated with bowel habit changes and loss of appetite.
4- Changes in Bowel Habits
Unfortunately, many of the warning signs that occur in the lower digestive system with this type of cancer go unheard. Generally they are dismissed as another illness or disorder. As ovarian cancer progresses and grows, the bowel habits of an affected woman may change. Constipation occasionally presents itself with ovarian cancer, and occurs when the need to defecate becomes very infrequent or incredibly difficult. Constipation tends to result in straining to go to the bathroom and chronic pain. Diarrhea may occur as well, which results in frequent visits to the bathroom with a very loose or wet stool. Those with ovarian cancer may go between these symptoms often as the cancer confuses the body and makes it difficult to maintain a normal and healthy digestive system. Bowel habit changes tend to go hand in hand with bladder dysfunction when it comes to this disease.
5- Bladder Dysfunction
When cancer affects the ovaries, it is very close to the location of the bladder within the pelvic area. The urgency to urinate can differ greatly for those suffering from ovarian cancer. Some may experience the need to urinate frequently while others may have difficulty with urination. It may take an extended period of time before urine flow begins. If one finds it impossible to urinate, medical attention is needed as soon as possible. When urination becomes nearly hopeless, it could indicate that there is a blockage. A blockage can result in damage to the urinary tract and infection if it is not taken care of correctly. Further complications resulting from an infection may compound the loss of appetite that commonly occurs with cancer, which is outlined below.
6- Loss of Appetite or Quickly Feeling Full
The loss of appetite is one of the most common signs of late stage ovarian cancer. By this time, a number of different causes can influence appetite loss. Sometimes, it is due to a frequent sense of fullness in the stomach caused by abdominal pressure; this is very common for ovarian cancer patients. A loss of appetite can also occur due to feeling sick often. When a cancer of the ovaries begins to bring an individual down or into a deep depression the loss of appetite can be due to becoming listless or hopeless. Also, ovarian cancer treatments may cause nausea resulting in appetite loss as well. The sensation of feeling full quickly when eating can be made worse by poor eating habits, and the girth of the abdomen may increase even though food intake plummets.
7- Increased Abdominal Girth and Clothing Tight Around the Waist
When ovarian cancer makes its way through the abdomen, the abdomen and waist can increase in size. This will result in a larger girth for the abdomen as well as clothes feeling tighter around the waist. As the cancer grows and the body attempts to fight it, the abdomen will widen in an effort to provide space to internal organs. Even though the body tries to acclimate itself to the changes, there will still be pressure and this discomfort can contribute to a lack of energy as it becomes increasingly bothersome.
8- Persistent Lack of Energy
As the body fights a battle with ovarian cancer, it will put a lot of its resources into the fight. This tends to drain afflicted individuals giving them a continuous lack of energy. Feeling tired and exhausted all of the time is a sign that the body is truly worn out and needs a rest; yet, it is impossible for the body to rest while being ravaged by cancer. When this symptom kicks in, this cancer patients may begin to stay indoors for the most part, lounge in a seat for a majority of the day, or even stay in bed in an effort to regain energy. Lazing around can be much more frequent when lower back pain enters the picture.
9- Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain usually occurs when pressure is focused on the lower spinal column, or when the spine has suffered an injury. Should cancer invade the ovaries, lower back pain can come along suddenly. Once the cancer proliferates within the ovaries, the added mass will put pressure on surrounding organs, which is relayed to the lower back. As the disease progresses, it can invade surrounding organs further compounding the pressure on the spinal column.
If any of these symptoms become apparent, a woman should seek medical attention as soon as possible. This cancer can be treated easily within earlier stages, but treatment can become very unsuccessful if the disease is not caught in time. Should ovarian cancer become a concern, it is important to prepare for a doctors appointment and testing.
Preparing for Appointments and Diagnostic Tests
When it comes to ovarian cancer, an appointment needs to be made with a gynecologic oncologist. Preparations should be made prior to the appointment, and any pre-appointment restrictions (such as fasting) should be honored. The most important preparatory step is to write a list of warning signs; this list should include when the signs occurred, the severity, how often they occur, and anything that might trigger them or their severity. Family health history should be noted as well. If there are any questions that might be asked of the doctor, it is a good idea to have them on paper. By having everything prepared, the appointment can run smoothly and diagnostic testing can begin.
There are five different diagnostic tests that may be performed to identify the cancer. Blood testing for CA-125 can prove useful, but it is not as reliable as other methods. It tests for a particular protein in the blood which tends to be abnormally high in women with cancerous ovaries. A physical exam, such as a pap test, can help a doctor to detect large lumps by hand. Ultrasounds tend to be incredibly reliable in detecting abnormal growths within the ovaries, especially transvaginal ultrasounds. In addition CT scans and MRI’s are good for viewing other internal organs to determine whether or not the disease has spread. Overall, a biopsy is the only definitive way to diagnose cancer. This is done through a minimally invasive surgical procedure known as a laparotomy.
With everything prepared, any appointments and diagnostic testing should run smoothly without problems. The doctor should know as much as possible about a woman, her health, family health history, and symptoms in order to make the proper diagnosis. If caught earlier, ovarian cancer can be successfully treated.