Is ovarian cancer really a “silent killer” as its reputation holds? Perhaps. It certainly earned this reputation because of the lack of obvious symptoms when cancer of the ovary is in its early stages, while it is still highly curable.

Symptoms are basically something you might feel that is unusual, like pain or a pressure sensation. Over the past five years, research has shown that some ovarian cancer symptoms do occur earlier, but are simply ignored by either the patient or the physician.

Late Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Unfortunately, in three out of four patients, cancer of the ovary is usually discovered during late stages when it has already spread inside the abdomen to other organs, like the stomach and intestines. At that point, the cure rates are much lower.

Symptoms in later stages may include unexplained weight loss or gain, persistent abdominal bloating or pain, or feeling full early while eating.

Early Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Early stage ovarian cancer may not cause many symptoms, or they may be vague and overlooked. In addition, vague abdominal or pelvic symptoms are most often NOT caused by cancer. If they go away within a few days to a week, they may simply be intestinal disturbances due to something you ate or a viral infection.


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The key to earlier diagnosis is not to ignore persistent symptoms that are not explained by any other condition, especially when you feel symptoms mainly in the pelvis. These might include increasing pelvic pressure or pain, change in bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation, or bladder irregularities like more frequent or urgent urination.

Symptoms in your pelvis may be due to an enlarging ovary putting pressure on your bladder or bowel. Most of the time, growth of an ovarian tumor or mass is not cancerous, but you may still need treatment even for benign enlargement.

The take-home message is that if you have abdominal or pelvic symptoms that are new, seem unusual, persist for several weeks, or are worsening, tell your doctor. This is especially important if you are over 50 years of age and/or have a family history of cancer, especially breast or ovarian cancer.

Some types of ovarian cancer can occur in younger women, but they are unusual. Regardless, you should not ignore persistent symptoms like the ones described and should insist that your doctor seek a reasonable explanation for these symptoms.

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