Ovarian cancer is estimated to affect over 22,000 American women this year alone, but its early symptoms are easy to miss, making it the deadliest form of female reproductive cancer.
Ovarian cancer goes relatively undetected until it reaches stage 3 or 4; this is due to the amount of space in the abdomen and pelvis. In those organs, cancer has room to grow which masks symptoms as a result. When the cancer runs out of space to grow, patients will begin seeing ovarian cancer symptoms. There’s enough room for organs to move as the cancer grows, masking symptoms as a result. Furthermore, the common feeling of bloating in women can mask the symptom seen in ovarian cancer.
Approximately half of all ovarian cancers occur in women over the age of 63, but that doesn’t rule out younger women possessing the disease as well. The good news is that 94% of women with ovarian cancer survive longer than five years if the disease is caught early, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). But knowing how to recognize its symptoms is key.
Here are common warning signs that survivors of this cancer noticed:
Bleeding - Irregular bleeding is most common among women with ovarian stromal tumors (which only account for 1% of all ovarian cancers). Stromal tumors often produce estrogen, which can cause period-like bleeding, even after menopause, according to the ACS.
Bloating – Bloating is often common in women, and if undetected, tumors can grow to the size of a watermelon. Fluid buildup causes bloating in the abdomen, which is common of some people with liver disease or cancer. If you go several weeks without noticing a change in your bloating, you should see a doctor.
Increased satiety – Another result of fluid buildup is feeling full quickly after eating. If you notice that you cannot finish a meal you normally could, pay attention to your appetite.
Cramps - It’s not uncommon for tumors growing in the pelvis to cause pain in the lower abdomen. And since the discomfort can feel similar to period cramps, many women assume the tummy troubles are benign.
Back pain - Many sufferers of ovarian cancer will experience excrutiating back pain. If the tumor spreads in the abdomen or pelvis, it can irritate tissue in the lower back. Take note of new pain that doesn’t go away, especially if it’s unrelated to physical activity that could have strained you.
Difficulty breathing - Late-stage ovarian cancer can bring on breathing troubles. As tumors grow large, they may begin to press against the lungs and obstruct a patient’s ability to inhale and exhale.
Indigestion - Some women report experiencing gas or heartburn for several months leading up to a diagnosis. This symptom is common for patients who experience discomfort in the abdomen like bloating or constipation.
The urge to go - Some patients feel an urge to urinate more often than normal. This can mbe compared to the feeling of a UTI, but without the burning sensation. This urge occurs when cancer cells have begun to attach to the outside of the bladder wall or when fluid buildup compresses the bladder.
This common cancer can easily hide underneath the radar. Pay close attention to your body and should you see a change, talk to your doctor.