Get the Facts

Possible Symptoms and Signs of Ovarian Cancer

Many women show signs of some or all of these symptoms as a result of every day experiences. It is important to understand that, experienced on an ongoing basis, these may be signs of illnesses up to and including ovarian cancer. These are not listed in an attempt to diagnose a disease. It is imperative that you have open communication with your doctor about any of these symptoms, as well as others, to determine the severity.

Among the symptoms that should prompt a woman to be checked by her doctor:

  • Bloating
  • Difficult menstrual cycles
  • Headaches
  • Unusual weight gain
  • Sleepless nights
  • Sense of urgency or higher frequency to urinate
  • Abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion
  • Back pain
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Constipation

Ovarian Cancer Facts

Ovarian cancer is the 4th most common cause of cancer death among women in the U.S. Every female born in the United States has a risk of 1 in 55, or 1.8%, of developing ovarian cancer in her lifetime. The risk increases substantially for women with a family history of ovarian cancer. It is more common in women in their 50’s and 60’s, but often occurs in women with a family history before or during their early 40’s. Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other type of gynecologic cancer and accounts for 5% of all cancer deaths among women. It is the 4th most common cause of cancer death among women in the U.S.

• There are more than 30 different types of ovarian cancer

• Genetic or hereditary causes of ovarian cancer account for only 10% of the estimated 23, 400 cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed each year in the United States. The cause or causes of the other 90% are not known.

• Ovarian Cancer is primarily a disease of middle-and upper class women from highly industrialized countries with the exception of Japan and is relative to a high-fat, low-fiber diet.

• The use of oral contraceptives results in a 40% to 50% decrease in the risk of ovarian cancer.

• In a 2003 Women’s Health Initiative Trial on combined hormone replacement therapy (HRT), there was no statistical increase in ovarian cancer in women on HRT.

• Pelvic exams, the CA125 blood test, and pelvic ultrasounds are three methods of diagnosing ovarian cancer in women with symptoms suggesting the disease. None of these tests is foolproof when used alone; when used together, however, they can be very helpful in diagnosing ovarian cancer in its earliest stages. In fact, CA125 levels are elevated in 50% of Stage 1 ovarian cancer patients.

• There are many ways to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Anything that inhibits a woman from ovulating every month significantly reduces the risk ovarian cancer such as birth control pills mentioned above.

• Total hysterectomy refers to the removal of the body of the uterus and the cervix; it does not refer to the removal of the ovaries. Total hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy refer to removal of the uterus, tubes, and ovaries.

• Some cases of Stage 1 ovarian cancer do not require chemotherapy and have a long-term cure rate of over 95% with treatment limited to surgery.

• The average survival for women with advance stage ovarian cancer in the last 15 years has gone from 1 year to over 3 years. It is true that among women followed from 5 and 10 years after treatment, the number that are actually cured of the disease is very small. However, it appears that some 8% to 15% of patients, even those with very advanced ovarian cancer, eventually will be cured of the disease.

• Aggressive surgery with the goal of optimal debulking of ovarian cancer is a very important prognostic factor. Surgery by a gynecologic oncologist is more likely to result in optimal debulking.

• Advances in therapy and improvements in understanding how and when to deliver which treatment have enabled oncologists to treat ovarian cancer like a chronic disease in some women. By careful and knowledgeable selection of which treatment is most appropriate for an individual, recurrent ovarian cancer can be treated. Cure may not be the goal of treatment, though it is possible to extend survival and preserve a good quality of life during treatment.