Ovarian cancer is sometimes referred to as a silent killer because early symptoms are often absent or, when present, they are too vague. Even when there are signs, it’s common for primary care physicians to mistaken them for digestive issues or hormonal changes that occur naturally as women get older.
This confusion is one reason for the cancer’s low survival rates, according to the American Cancer Society, as four out of five women with the disease are diagnosed in the later stages. While ovarian cancer accounts for about 3% of all female cancer cases in the United States, it accounts for 5% of all cancer deaths among women, more than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
While women are more likely to have symptoms as the cancer grows and spreads, early-stage ovarian cancer can cause them, too. 24/7 Tempo identified 11 possible early signs of the condition.
The most important thing to remember about cancer signs is consistency. Regardless of how vague new symptoms are — bloating, early satiety, or tiredness — they should be investigated if they occur for more than two weeks, said Dr. Nicholas Tarricone, a gynecologist and the chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at ProHEALTH Care in Rockville Centre, New York.
Any abdominal pain a woman can’t explain, especially if she is over the age of 40, should be discussed with her gynecologist, Tarricone said. And keep in mind that it’s common for different signs of ovarian cancer to occur simultaneously, he added. Sometimes vague signs are actually alarming signs of an underlying health problem that needs medical attention — like these 25 health symptoms people often ignore but never should.
Early detection increases the chance of successful treatment. When the tumor has been caught before it has spread to other parts of the body, at stage 1, and has been dealt with surgically, the survival rate is between 85% and 90%, according to Tarricone. At stage 3, the most common stage the disease is diagnosed, at best the survival rate is about 50%, he added.
Nationwide, women are slightly more likely than men to be diagnosed with cancer. Higher cancer diagnosis rates in women are partially because women can develop five different common types of cancer than men cannot — these are the most common types of cancer in men and women.
To identify early symptoms of ovarian cancer, 24/7 Tempo consulted a gynecologist and reviewed several sources, including the American Cancer Society, the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, as well as several states’ departments of health sites and information provided by medical centers