Special Report

Early Signs of Ovarian Cancer

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1. Bloating

Many women don’t realize that bloating is an early sign of ovarian cancer. In fact, two-thirds of women in the U.K. wouldn’t even go to see a doctor if they experienced persistent bloating, according to the country’s ovarian cancer charity, Target Ovarian Cancer. “Bloating is the most common very early sign of ovarian cancer,” Dr. Tarricone said. “Even fatigue shows up later.” The bloating in the very early stages of the disease is actually gas building up in the abdomen as a result of the tumor growing and causing local inflammation.

What often causes bloating in women with ovarian cancer in the later stages is ascites, which is a buildup of fluid in the stomach, according to Tarricone. The condition can develop for several reasons, including cancer cells spreading to the lining of the abdomen or blocking the lymphatic system, preventing fluids from flowing properly.

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2. Indigestion

Indigestion is often caused by something a person ate and not an underlying disease. But if a woman experiences recurrent pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen even after changing her diet, a check up with a doctor may be a good idea.

Indigestion can be due to ascites. Because indigestion is often a symptom of gastrointestinal illness and other health conditions, doctors may consider a range of issues first, delaying the diagnosis until the cancer has reached an advanced stage.

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3. Constipation

After spreading to the colon or from the formation of ascites, ovarian cancers can cause narrowing of the bowel and lead to constipation. The fluid buildup may be putting pressure on the bowel, making it hard for stool to pass. It is also possible for some women with ovarian cancer to suddenly develop severe constipation that alternates with diarrhea.

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4. Pressure in the pelvis area

Pelvic pain or pressure is not uncommon in women with ovarian cancer. The ovaries may be inflamed and enlarged, causing pain. The pelvic pain may also be as a result of fluid buildup in the abdomen. Masses growing in the pelvic area in general often cause pain that feels very much like cramps. This is another reason ovarian cancer is not diagnosed until later stages; many women simply assume they have stomach or other feminine troubles.

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5. Feeling full sooner

Ovarian cancer symptoms may vary with every stage of the disease. Some women may not experience any symptoms at the beginning, and if they do, the symptoms are often very vague. A common early sign is feeling full quickly after eating even a light meal, Dr. Tarricone explained. The tumor pushes the intestine, which pushes the stomach, which now has less space for food.

In the very early stages of ovarian cancer, early satiety is often caused by fluid buildup in the abdomen. This build up in turn slows down digestion, allowing gas to fill the volume in the abdominal cavity, making you feel full almost right away, Tarricone explained. The key with early symptoms is consistency. If feeling full after just a few bites happens for two or more weeks, a visit to the doctor may be warranted.

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