Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women, per the American Cancer Society.
“There are many symptoms that patients can have but they’re not specific,” says Shannon Westin, M.D., an associate professor in the department of gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. “They’re easy to blow off.” Unfortunately, dismissing the signs of ovarian cancer allows the disease to progress, making it more difficult to treat when it is detected.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 22,440 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed this year, and 14,080 women will die of the disease. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women, per the American Cancer Society, and it causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system, so it’s important to know the signs.
“Women have to understand what the symptoms are and pay attention if they notice something is wrong,” says Deborah Lindner, M.D., chief medical officer of Bright Pink, a non-profit focused on the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women.
Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, feeling full sooner than normal, and not being able to eat as much as normal, Westin says, adding that your pants may suddenly not fit as well as they used to due to bloating. Frequent urination, constipation, menstrual changes, pain during intercourse, and heartburn can be symptoms too, Lindner says.
Obviously, these are all things that can happen with a slew of illnesses or just life in general, but persistence and frequency is important, says Mian M. K. Shahzad, M.D., Ph.D., a gynecologic oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center. For example, if you have pelvic pain that happens once and you don’t have it again, it could be a sign of an ovarian cyst that burst. But if you have pelvic pain more than 12 times a month with symptoms that started less than a year ago, he says it’s important to flag it for your doctor.
If you have a few of these symptoms and they persist for two or more weeks, Lindner says it’s time to talk to your doctor. Ovarian cancer is more common in older women, and your symptoms are likely due to something other than cancer, but it’s important to get it checked out, just in case. So, call your doctor and flag your concerns. “Schedule a visit and ask them, ‘Could it be my ovaries?’” Lindner says. It could save your life.