Silent Signs of Ovarian Cancer: 7 Symptoms Not to Ignore (2022)

Silent Signs of Ovarian Cancer: 7 Symptoms Not to Ignore (1)Share on Pinterest

When ovarian cancer is detected early, before it spreads beyond the ovaries, the chance of survival is high. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for early-stage ovarian cancer is around 93 to 98 percent.

The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition reports that 1 in 78 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime. But 4 out of 5 people with this cancer are not diagnosedin the early stages because the signs of ovarian cancer can be easy to miss.

So, what are the silent signals of ovarian cancer? Let’s take a closer look at what’s known about often overlooked symptoms.

In its early stages, ovarian cancer may not present any noticeable signs. When symptoms do appear, they are often the kinds of symptoms you normally associate with more common conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and urinary tract infections.

For many people, this means that their ovarian cancer isn’t detected until it has spread. This, ultimately, can lower the survival rate for this type of cancer.

As already mentioned, many of the early signs of ovarian cancer overlap with symptoms of other common conditions. Most of the time, these symptoms are caused by something that isn’t cancer.

But waiting, ignoring your symptoms, or hoping they’ll go away isn’t the safest option. You are the expert on your body. So trust your intuition if something feels wrong or abnormal, and follow up with your doctor or healthcare professional as soon as you can.

Let’s take a closer look at 7 silent warning signs of ovarian cancer that are often ignored or overlooked.

(Video) 5 Warning Signs and Risk Factors of Ovarian Cancer

1. Bloating

It’s normal to feel bloated around the time of your menstrual period, or when you’ve eaten certain foods. But bloating that doesn’t go away is a common symptom of ovarian cancer.

Around 72 percent of those with ovarian cancer say they experienced bloating. Here’s how some people describe the bloating:

  • It feels as though you’re pregnant.
  • It makes your clothes dig into your waist.
  • It makes it hard to button or zip your pants.

Bloating is often related to the buildup of fluid in your abdomen. It happens, in part, because of changes in your abdominal blood supply and in your body’s ability to drain fluids.

This fluid buildup is a concern because free-floating cancer cells can move through the fluid from one area of your body to another.

2. Abdominal or pelvic pain

One of the most commonly reported symptoms among people with ovarian cancer is pain in their abdomen and pelvis. In one recent study, around 39 percent of women with the diagnosis had experienced abdominal pain.

What the pain feels like can vary from person to person. Some say it feels like an intense pressure. Others say it feels like menstrual cramping, as though you’re being gripped or squeezed from within.

Exactly what’s causing the pain can also differ. As tumors grow larger, they can put pressure on other parts of your body, including your bowels, bladder, rectum, and spine.

3. Change in your bathroom habits

About 20 percent of people with ovarian cancer notice constipation, diarrhea, or some other change in their bowel patterns.

Ovarian cancer can also result in a need for more frequent urination or a greater sense of urgency about having to urinate. Around 7 percent say they experienced urinary problems prior to their diagnosis.

In addition to urination frequency and urgency changes, some women also felt a burning sensation during urination, and others felt their bladder was still full even after they had urinated.

4. Back pain

Back pain is a common condition that affects millions of people every year. Most of the time, back pain is caused by some type of injury and not cancer.

If you haven’t injured your back or your back pain isn’t getting better with treatments, talk to a healthcare professional about it. Pain in the lower back or sides can be a symptom of ovarian cancer.

5. Appetite changes

For some people, ovarian cancer causes a loss of appetite. Others may feel full even after eating just a small amount, and some have indigestion, nausea, or vomiting after they eat. These appetite changes can lead to unintended weight loss.

It’s not uncommon for these symptoms to be misdiagnosed at first as acid reflux or a similar digestive condition.

6. Menstrual changes

If you have menstrual periods, ovarian cancer can affect your period in a number of ways. It may cause you to:

(Video) How This 24-Year-Old Finally Discovered She Had Ovarian Cancer | ELLE Out Loud

  • miss a period
  • bleed more heavily than usual
  • have spotting or bleeding when you’re not having a period
  • experience vaginal discharge that’s different from what you’re used to

If you are post-menopausal, talk to your doctor if you experience vaginal bleeding. Bleeding after menopause is sometimes a sign of ovarian cancer.

Anytime your periods change, it’s a good idea to discuss what’s happening with a gynecologist, primary care physician, or another healthcare professional you trust.

7. Pain during sex

Pain during sex is one of the lesser-known signs of ovarian cancer. It can be caused by several other conditions, including:

  • vaginal dryness
  • endometriosis
  • vaginismus
  • inflammation

If sex is painful, a health professional can help you find out what’s causing the pain. Even if it’s not ovarian cancer, diagnosing and treating the problem can keep you from feeling emotional distress along with the physical symptoms.

Unlike other types of cancer, there’s currently no screening test to detect ovarian cancer at an early stage.

There’s also no single test to detect ovarian cancer. Instead, your doctor will use several tests to look for a tumor in your ovaries and then test it to determine whether it’s benign or malignant (cancerous).

The diagnostic tests most often used to detect ovarian cancer include:

  • A pelvic exam. Your doctor will feel your lower abdomen and pelvis to check for changes to the size and shape of your ovaries and uterus.
  • Transvaginal ultrasound. This involves inserting an instrument into your vagina which uses sound waves to create a picture of the inside of your fallopian tubes, ovaries, and uterus.
  • CA-125 blood test. This test detects higher levels of a protein that is sometimes produced by tumors.
  • Biopsy. If a tumor is detected, a surgeon will remove a small sample of tumor tissue. The tissue will be tested to determine if it’s cancerous.

A delayed ovarian cancer diagnosis could endanger your life.

Because there isn’t a regular screening test to detect early ovarian cancer, and the symptoms overlap with other conditions, good treatment outcomes may depend in part on your ability to self-advocate. This may be especially important if you’re part of a group that’s often overlooked or underdiagnosed because of bias.

Self-advocacy isn’t always easy. It can be hard to talk about your symptoms, especially if you:

  • are a shy or reserved person
  • don’t know or fully trust your healthcare team
  • feel frozen by depression or anxiety
  • don’t know what to ask for
  • are younger or less educated than your doctor
  • have experienced discrimination or disbelief because of your sex, gender identity, race, or income
  • have never had to advocate for yourself in a medical setting before
ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED

Please hear these words of encouragement: Your symptoms are real. Your health is worth fighting for. It’s okay—it’s more than okay, it’s criticalto ask for what you need.

Most people aren’t born with good self-advocacy skills. They’re developed through practice — as though you are building a muscle.

Research involving women with ovarian cancer shows that self-advocacy has powerful effects, including:

  • you’re more likely to feel that your healthcare meets your needs and reflects your values
  • you’ll get more information to help you make better decisions
  • you’re more likely to get help for your symptoms before they become overwhelming
  • you’re more likely to create a supportive network around you
  • your overall well-being — including your mental and emotional health — is likely to improve
(Video) Silent and Misleading Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

  1. Record your symptoms. In the days or weeks leading up to your appointment, document your symptoms to help your doctor understand the frequency and severity of your symptoms.
  2. Communicate your risk. Make sure your doctor knows about your risk factors, including your family history and any BRC1 and BRC2 genetic mutations you have.
  3. Emphasize what’s new. Because many of the symptoms of ovarian cancer are common, be sure you state clearly which symptoms are new and how long they have been happening.
  4. Educate yourself. Find out everything you can about ovarian cancer and the diagnostic tests to detect it. Know where the tests take place, who orders them, and whether they’re covered by your insurance plan, if you have one.
  5. Prepare questions in advance. This step is important if you tend to become anxious in medical settings. To make sure you ask every question that matters to you, keep a notepad or your phone handy so you can jot down questions as they occur to you in the days before your office visit.
  6. Involve your friends. If you have friends or relatives who’ve been diagnosed with cancer, ask them for guidance and support. What do they wish they’d done differently? How were they able to self-advocate? Would they be willing to role-play with you? In one study involving Black women with breast cancer, participants said the support they received from friends and family made a big difference in their ability to self-advocate.
  7. Ask for a referral. If you feel your doctor is ignoring or minimizing your concerns, ask for a referral to see a specialist. If you have health insurance, you can talk to your plan coordinator to see whether a referral is necessary.
  8. Be polite and firm. A good healthcare partnership is based on two-way respect and trust. Asking may be more effective than demanding.
  9. Find another doctor. This step is not an easy one, because finding a new doctor is time-consuming. Still, if you feel you’re not being heard, it is worth the effort to look for a healthcare professional who sees you, hears you, and gives you person-centered care.
(Video) Ovarian Cancer 10 Warning Signs Of The Silent Killer Women Should Never Ever Ignore

Whether you’re just beginning to gather information about your symptoms or you’re much farther along in the process, thinking about ovarian cancer can be frightening.

It can be helpful if you have a variety of support systems around you. In addition to the support you have closer to home, here are some resources you may find helpful:

Resources for you

Ovarian cancer doesn’t always have noticeable symptoms in its earliest and most treatable stages. When symptoms do show up, they are often misunderstood because they can mimic the symptoms of other common conditions.

If you have abdominal pain, bloating, pain in your back or sides, unexpected vaginal bleeding, missed periods, changes in your bowel habits or appetite, increased urgency or frequency of urination, or painful sex, talk to your healthcare professional about your symptoms.

You may have to ask about ovarian cancer specifically and clearly, because these symptoms are sometimes misdiagnosed at first — but do self-advocate. Your health depends on an early, accurate diagnosis.

(Video) 7 Signs and symptoms Of Ovarian Cancer You Might Be Ignoring

FAQs

What are the subtle symptoms of ovarian cancer? ›

Afraid you might have ovarian cancer? You're not alone
  • Bloating.
  • Abdominal discomfort or back pain.
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Irregular bleeding.
  • Change in bowel or bladder habits.
  • Feeling full too quickly or lack of appetite.
13 Apr 2022

What were your first signs ovarian cancer? ›

Symptoms of ovarian cancer

General discomfort in the lower abdomen, including any/all of the following: Feeling swollen or bloated. A loss of appetite or a feeling of fullness – even after a light meal. Gas, indigestion, and nausea.

What else has similar symptoms to ovarian cancer? ›

But ovarian cancer actually does have symptoms. They include: Bloating. Pelvic or belly pain.
...
Sometimes, menstrual cramps are related to other conditions that also can look like ovarian cancer, including:
  • Endometriosis.
  • Uterine fibroids.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease.
5 May 2021

Do you feel generally unwell with ovarian cancer? ›

Main symptoms of ovarian cancer

a swollen tummy or feeling bloated. pain or tenderness in your tummy or the area between the hips (pelvis) no appetite or feeling full quickly after eating. an urgent need to pee or needing to pee more often.

Where does your back hurt with ovarian cancer? ›

Severe lower back pain is also associated with ovarian cancer. Just before diagnosis, many women have complained of having back pain that persists throughout the day and interferes with their sleep. This is usually caused by the fluid that collects in the pelvis and causes irritation in the tissues of the lower back.

What does bloating from ovarian cancer look like? ›

Bloating that's related to ovarian cancer may cause visible swelling in your abdomen. Your belly might feel full, puffy, or hard. You may also have other symptoms, like weight loss.

What are the red flags for ovarian cancer? ›

Four symptoms are more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than in women in the general population. These symptoms are bloating or increased abdominal size; pelvic or abdominal pain; difficulty eating or feeling full quickly; and urinary frequency or urgency.

Would ovarian cancer show up in routine blood work? ›

The CA-125 blood test measures the amount of a protein called CA-125 in the blood. Many women with ovarian cancer have high levels of CA-125. This test can be useful as a tumor marker to help guide treatment in women known to have ovarian cancer, because a high level often goes down if treatment is working.

Can a full blood count detect ovarian cancer? ›

The tumour marker CA125 is a protein produced by some ovarian cancers. It circulates in the blood, so it can be measured with a blood test. CA125 is not a completely reliable test for ovarian cancer.

Does ovarian cancer have obvious warning signs? ›

A person experiencing early symptoms of ovarian cancer should promptly seek medical advice. Symptoms include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, appetite changes, changes in bowel habits, an increased need to urinate, and changes in menstruation.

How do I know if I have IBS or ovarian cancer? ›

Another defining symptom of ovarian cancer that the two disorders share is bloating. In the case of ovarian cancer, it occurs as a result of fluid collecting in the belly. In the case of IBS, bloating may be triggered by what people consume, such as fiber-rich foods, fried fatty foods, and carbonated drinks.

How long can you have ovarian cancer without knowing? ›

Can it go undetected for years? A person may be unaware that they have ovarian cancer for years. Doctors detect only 20% of ovarian cancers during the early stages. As the ovaries are so small, there may be no symptoms of cancer until it grows or spreads.

How long can ovarian cancer go unnoticed? ›

A woman's lifetime risk of getting ovarian cancer is about 1 in 78, while her risk of dying from it is 1 in 108. Ovarian cancer can be asymptomatic for several years, which makes it challenging to diagnose.

Would ovarian cancer show up in routine blood work? ›

The CA-125 blood test measures the amount of a protein called CA-125 in the blood. Many women with ovarian cancer have high levels of CA-125. This test can be useful as a tumor marker to help guide treatment in women known to have ovarian cancer, because a high level often goes down if treatment is working.

What are the silent signs of cancer? ›

Some common symptoms that may occur with cancer are as follows:
  • Persistent cough or blood-tinged saliva. ...
  • A change in bowel habits. ...
  • Blood in the stool. ...
  • Unexplained anemia (low blood count) ...
  • Breast lump or breast discharge. ...
  • Lumps in the testicles. ...
  • A change in urination.

How can you test for ovarian cancer at home? ›

It's not possible to diagnose ovarian cancer at home, but if you are aware of the signs and symptoms, you will be able to ask a doctor as soon as you spot them.
...
How to check for ovarian cancer at home
  1. bloating.
  2. changes in appetite.
  3. feeling full after eating a small amount.
  4. ongoing pelvic pain.
  5. changes in urination.

Videos

1. Ovarian Cancer: understanding the warning signs
(WKBW TV | Buffalo, NY)
2. Women, Do Not Ignore These 10 Symptoms of “The Silent Killer
(Red Health)
3. Ovarian Cancer Symptoms, Detection & Screening | Memorial Sloan Kettering
(Memorial Sloan Kettering)
4. 10 signs and symptoms of Cervical Cancer | Watch Out for these Signs !!! - Dr. Sapna Lulla
(Doctors' Circle World's Largest Health Platform)
5. 8 Signs that You have Cancer
(Medical Centric)
6. 7 Early Warning Signs Of Pancreatic Cancer That Must not be Ignored
(1Stop Health)

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