Matthew Schlumbrecht, MD, is gynecologic oncologist at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Question: What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Answer: The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, pain in the stomach or pelvic areas, difficulty eating, feeling full quickly, trouble urinating, or feeling urgency to use the bathroom. Changes in menstrual cycles, unexplained weight gain, back pain or fatigue and new diarrhea or constipation can also be signs.
Frequently ovarian cancer is not immediately suspected because these symptoms can also be associated with other common medical issues. The key is to avoid worrying about what the symptom is and instead pay attention to when a new symptom arises. If a woman has any symptom that is new to her, that occurs every day or every other day, and persists for more than a week or so, she should discuss it with her health care provider.
While symptoms can seem vague, new studies are showing the disease is not the "silent" cancer it was once considered. Symptom awareness tools are being developed to help diagnose ovarian cancer in its earliest stages.
For women with a strong family history of ovarian/breast cancer or symptoms of ovarian cancer, ultrasound, CT scan or blood tests may be used to screen for the disease. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against screening low-risk women because the available tests have not shown to actually reduce ovarian cancer deaths and may lead to unnecessary surgery, which has its own risks.
Being aware of her body and any new symptoms is a woman’s best protection against ovarian cancer. She should also follow the diet, exercise and stress management guidelines advocated by the American Cancer Society to reduce her overall risk.