Brenda Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA
Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other gynecological cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. There is no reliable screening test for the disease, and the symptoms are easy to mistake for those of less serious diseases. It is rarely found at an early and treatable stage, according to the Mayo Clinic. Though the symptoms are the same for women of all ages, the cancer is most likely to strike women after menopause.
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Ovarian cancer is most likely to cause pain in the pelvic and abdominal area, according to the CDC. But it can also cause low back pain or even pain in the legs. Sometimes it causes pain during sex. The pain is likely to be constant and to gradually worsen, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Changes In Bathroom Habits
Ovarian cancer can cause changes in urination, according to the CDC. This can include suddenly needing to use the bathroom all the time or an increase in urgency when the need to urinate strikes. There can also be a change in bowel habits from what a patient normally experiences, such as a new problem with constipation or diarrhea, according to Mayo Clinic. Unlike with many digestive or other illnesses that can cause similar symptoms that come and go, these changes are likely to persist.
If a patient is tired all the time, particularly if the fatigue is extreme and out of proportion to the day's activities, that can indicate ovarian cancer, according to the CDC. This lack of energy won't come and go as normal tiredness does but will be constant and may get worse over time, according to the Mayo Clinic. Though less common, sometimes the cancer causes shortness of breath, according to the National Cancer Institute.
If the area below the stomach starts to swell or feels full, that can be a sign of ovarian cancer, according to the CDC. There may be a feeling of pressure or extreme bloating. Sometimes patients think they have gained weight or notice their clothes are tighter around the waist than before, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If a patient starts having digestive difficulties, such as upset stomach, gas, frequent heartburn, nausea or vomiting, that can be an indication of ovarian cancer, according to the CDC. There can be a loss of appetite or a person may fill up much quicker than normal when she does eat. Ovarian cancer is commonly misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome or other digestive problem, because those diseases can cause similar symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. But if the cause is a digestive illness, the symptoms should come and go or occur only after eating certain foods or in other situations. If the cause is ovarian cancer, the symptoms won't be related to diet and they will be chronic and worsen over time.
If there is bleeding or some other discharge from the vagina that is not in line with a patient's normal pattern that may indicate ovarian cancer, according to the CDC. This is particular cause for concern if it occurs after menopause when there should be no bleeding. Though these symptoms can be caused by other problems, it's important to get them checked out by a doctor to make sure ovarian cancer is not the culprit.