Why are ovarian cancer symptoms so silent?
The five-year relative survival rate for all types of ovarian cancer is 45 percent—but that number rises to 92 percent if the cancer is caught in stage IA or IB, before it spreads beyond the ovary, according to the American Cancer Society. Sadly, because ovarian cancer symptoms can be hard to recognize, about 70 percent of cases aren’t caught until they’ve advanced to stage III or IV, when chances of survival are much lower, says Kevin Holcomb, MD, director of gynecologic oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Ovarian cancer isn’t really a silent disease,” Dr. Holcomb says. “A significant number of women with ovarian cancer have symptoms in the months and weeks leading up to diagnosis. Unfortunately, many are vague and nonspecific. … Ovarian cancer whispers, so you have to listen closely.” Unlike breast cancer, no tests have been developed to screen regularly for ovarian cancer accurately, which makes the cancer hard to detect unless you report symptoms early yourself. If you’ve been feeling more than one symptom for a week or more, ask your doctor about getting a pelvic examination, transvaginal sonogram, or a CA 125 blood test, which can help detect ovarian cancer. These are the things OB-GYNs wish you knew about ovarian cancer.
“With ovarian cancer, not only can tumors grow quite large, but they can result in fluid growing around them, which can cause pretty dramatic abdominal extension,” says Amanda Fader, MD, associate professor and director of Kelly Gynocologic Oncology Service at Johns Hopkins Medicine. If your abdomen is growing while your face and arms are losing muscle and fat, it probably isn’t just weight gain. Make sure you ignore these myths about ovarian cancer.
Changes in bowel habits
Women diagnosed with ovarian cancer may suddenly develop severe constipation that alternates with diarrhea. Your doctor might suggest tests for gastrointestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome, but ask if it could be a sign of cancer “Our hope is that if patients and physicians are aware of the ovarian cancer symptoms, evaluations for ovarian cancer would come earlier as opposed to being the last thing looked into,” Dr. Holcomb says. These are other cancer symptoms women are likely to ignore.