Early Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

by Mona Saint MD

Recently, we answered readers’ questions on the CA 125 test for detecting ovarian cancer. Today we will follow up with a discussion on the early symptoms of ovarian cancer and some of the risk factors and protective factors. Ovarian cancer is the most common cause of death among the gynecological cancers. The most common type of ovarian cancer usually is diagnosed when a woman is in her 50’s. Typically, ovarian cancer does not present with obvious symptoms until a late stage of the disease, when the prognosis is poor. Fortunately, it has been recently discovered that there may be early symptoms of ovarian cancer that if recognized, could hopefully detect it at an earlier stage and improve survival.

Early symptoms can include: bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full, and urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency). If these symptoms are new, persistent, a change from your normal body, worse than expected, or if you have more than one symptom, it is worth seeing a gynecologist for a closer history and physical especially if the symptoms have been present daily for more than a few weeks.(1) Your gynecologist will take a close history, perform a full pelvic and abdominal examination, and may consider an ultrasound and CA 125 test depending on the findings. The good news is that most patients who present with one of these common symptoms do not have ovarian cancer.

Some of the main risk factors for ovarian cancer include:  a family history of ovarian cancer or a familial cancer syndrome, never having kids, infertility, starting menstrual periods at a young age, and a late menopause. Several protective factors have been found; these factors decrease your risk of ovarian cancer and include: having kids, history of breast feeding, history of using of birth control pills (the longer the use, the lower the risk), having your tubes tied (a tubal ligation), and a hysterectomy (even if the ovaries were left in place). (1)

Overall the lifetime risk of ovarian cancer is 1.4-1.8 % (1). If you are concerned because you have multiple unexplained symptoms that are persistent, it is worth seeing your gynecologist. Our main goal of this article is to give you the latest information from the experts, which is always powerful, and not to scare you, because remember, the common symptoms we discussed are usually not due to ovarian cancer.

References: 1) UpToDate.com

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