How to Identify Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on August 29, 2014

How to Identify Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

One characteristic that makes ovarian cancer so devastating is how often goes undetected in its early stages.

One characteristic that makes ovarian cancer
so devastating is how often it goes undetected
in its early stages.

This year, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 21,980 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and that 14,270 woman will die from this form of cancer.

September’s observance of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is designed to make more people conscious of this type of information and statistics.

Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. One of the characteristics of ovarian cancer that makes it so devastating is that it often goes undetected in its early stages.

“The difficulty with ovarian cancer is that by the time the patient becomes symptomatic, the cancer is usually in an advanced stage,” said Anthony Mackaronis, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist for Crozer-Keystone Health System.

When ovarian cancer is in its advanced stages, it’s more difficult to treat and is frequently fatal. Catching this form of cancer early is crucial. Although women are more likely to experience symptoms after the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries, early-stage ovarian cancer can sometimes cause them. According to Dr. Mackaronis, these symptoms include:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Frequent urination

“These symptoms are so general that it is often assumed that they are nothing serious and disregarded as bowel or bladder related,” Dr. Mackaronis said. So how can you distinguish them? Symptoms of ovarian cancer typically follow a pattern of starting suddenly; feeling different than your normal digestive or menstrual problems; and happening almost every day and don't go away.

Dr. Mackaronis explained that, unlike with other forms of cancer, there isn’t a good screening test to identify ovarian cancer in women not experiencing symptoms. But, fortunately, the lifetime risk of ovarian cancer for a woman in the United States is less than two percent.

There are certain populations that have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Those with a family history of this cancer, especially in a first degree relative such as a mother or sibling, have an increased risk, as do those with an inherited gene mutation such as breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1), breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2) and Lynch Syndrome, Dr. Mackaronis said.

“Doctors will screen for genetic cancer syndromes based on your family history and may request that you see a cancer geneticist,” he said.

Currently, the way to prevent ovarian cancer is the surgical removal of the ovaries, but this is only offered to patients with known gene mutations since the procedure has risks and complications associated with it.

Treating patients with ovarian cancer usually includes a combination of chemotherapy and surgery.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any recommendations for decreasing your risk of ovarian cancer. However, according to Dr. Mackaronis, there are some studies that show certain factors are related to a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer:

  • Prior pregnancies
  • Prior use of oral contraceptives
  • Having your tubes tied or tubal sterilization
  • A history of breastfeeding

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