PINEHURST, N.C. – Ovarian cancer has been referred to as the “disease that whispers” because early stages of the disease often cause subtle symptoms that are easily attributable to other conditions.
Typically, most symptoms associated with the disease don’t raise a red flag until the cancer reaches more advanced stages.
When caught in its earliest stages, approximately 94% of people diagnosed with ovarian cancer live 5 years or more. But only about 20% of ovarian cancer is found early, according to the American Cancer Society. If ovarian cancer is not detected until it is more advanced (stage III or higher), the survival rate can be as low as 28%. The sooner ovarian cancer is diagnosed, the better a woman’s chance for survival.
FirstHealth Gynecologic Oncologist Michael Sundborg, M.D., says women should always be aware of the risk factors that can impact their chance of developing gynecologic cancer.
“While every woman is at risk of developing gynecologic cancer, risk factors can include obesity, menopause at a late age, never having been pregnant, and the use of certain medications, such as birth control pills and estrogen,” Sundborg said.
“The risk in certain cancers also increases with age while the greatest risk for some, especially ovarian cancer, is a family history of cancer, particularly ovarian, colon or breast cancer, and especially breast cancer in pre-menopausal women. Early detection is key. Since there is no screening test for ovarian cancer, symptom awareness is key. Know your body and know the symptoms.”
It’s important to listen to your body and pay attention to any symptoms you may have. Although many symptoms of ovarian cancer can occur due to other reasons, don’t ignore these symptoms when they are persistent, happen frequently or worsen because they can be a sign of ovarian cancer:
- Bloating or abdominal swelling
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Feeling full quickly after eating
- Urinary urgency or frequency
- Back pain
- Painful sex
- Constipation, diarrhea, nausea or fatigue
- Changes in menstruation
- Unexplained weight loss
You don’t need to run to the doctor if you wake up bloated one day or find yourself down a few pounds on the scale when you weren’t trying. Many of these symptoms are likely caused by other factors.
But if you notice your symptoms don’t go away or increase in severity, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.
FirstHealth Gynecologic Oncology offers the full scope of gynecologic cancer care — diagnosis, surgery, medical oncology, surveillance, and support care. This scope of care is typically only available at an academic medical center.