Ovarian cancer occurs when there are mutations of abnormal cells in the ovaries. While it usually happens later in life in post-menopausal women, ovarian cancer can occur at any age. Roughly 21,000 women a year are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States.
Unfortunately, the earliest warning signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are often easy to miss. The vague nature of early symptoms can easily be mistaken for other conditions or not even noticed at all. Early detection is critical, so we’re taking a look at the early signs of ovarian cancer along with common later symptoms, risk factors and preventative measures.
Early Warning Signs of Ovarian Cancer
Unfortunately, women are more likely to notice symptoms of ovarian cancer once the cancer has started to spread beyond the ovaries, or metastasized. Only about 20% of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed in the early stages, mainly because early symptoms are easy to miss.
For example, some of the earliest warning signs include relatively common discomforts, such as excessive fullness after eating, bloating, fatigue, heartburn, indigestion, constipation and back pain. Menstrual irregularities and increased frequency of urination are also symptoms that don’t necessarily seem out of the ordinary in older women who make up the largest percentage of ovarian cancer cases.
Of the early symptoms, those related to diet and eating, such as loss of appetite, weight loss and difficulty eating, are a bit easier to notice. Pain of any kind, such as abdominal pain and pain during and after sexual intercourse, always requires further investigation.
If you experience several of these symptoms at once or experience symptoms for several days, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about it. Many women are under the false impression that a routine Pap smear checks for ovarian cancer, and that is not the case. The Pap smear only checks for signs of cervical cancer. You will need a complete pelvic exam and a blood test called CA-125 to check for ovarian cancer.