Ovarian cancer is a malignant tumor that develops in a woman's ovaries. Ovaries are the reproductive organs that hold a woman's eggs. Ovarian cancer most often occurs in women in their 50s. Ovarian cancer can be cured 90 to 95 percent of the time when found in its earliest stages. Unfortunately, the symptoms of ovarian cancer are hard to detect. Most often, when ovarian cancer is diagnosed, the cancer has spread to other organs. In these cases, the cancer is much more difficult to treat and cure.
The first sign of ovarian cancer is usually an enlarged ovary. Since the ovaries are located deep within the pelvic cavity, swelling may go unnoticed until later stages.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer are nonspecific and mimic those of many other more common conditions, including digestive and bladder disorders. A woman with ovarian cancer may be diagnosed with another condition before finally learning she has cancer. Common misdiagnoses include irritable bowel syndrome, stress and depression.
The key seems to be persistent or worsening signs and symptoms. With most digestive disorders, symptoms tend to come and go, or they occur in certain situations or after eating certain foods. With ovarian cancer, there's typically little fluctuation — symptoms are constant and gradually worsen.
Recent studies have shown that women with ovarian cancer are more likely than are other women to consistently experience the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
- Urinary urgency
- Pelvic discomfort or pain
Additional signs and symptoms that women with ovarian cancer may experience include:
- Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
- Unexplained changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
- Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
- Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
- Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
- Pain during intercourse (dyspareunia)
- A persistent lack of energy
- Low back pain
- Changes in menstruation
The cause of ovarian cancer is not yet known. However, individuals have an increased risk of ovarian cancer if they have:
• An early menopause
• A family history of ovarian cancer
• No pregnancies
There is no tried and true method to avoid developing ovarian cancer. However, there are a few steps you can take to lessen your risk:
• Obtain a yearly pelvic exam.
• Report any irregular vaginal bleeding or abdominal pain to your doctor.
• If a close family members—mother, sister or daughter—has had ovarian cancer, discuss your risk factors with your health care provider.
• Don't use excessive talcum powder on or near the vagina.
• Eat a low-fat diet.