Special Report

Early Signs of Ovarian Cancer

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6. A loss of appetite

Changes in appetite, such as having little or no appetite, are common in women with ovarian cancer. The reason is often similar to the cause of early satiety, Dr. Tarricone explained. It’s normal to not have an appetite when you feel bloated. The loss of appetite may be a direct result of the cancer, which may be causing metabolism changes. It may also, however, be an indirect result of other cancer symptoms such as pain and fatigue. When people feel unwell in general they are less likely to eat. Sometimes, doctors may recommend a short course of steroids to increase appetite and energy in people with cancer.

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7. Fatigue

Getting tired easily can be easily ignored. Everyone gets tired after certain activities. But tiredness should not be confused with chronic fatigue — a constant lack of energy that never seems to go away regardless of how many hours of sleep a person gets. Why exactly cancer causes fatigue is unclear. One theory involves lack of nutrients as cancer cells take the nutrients from normal cells, leaving the body depleted of healthy nutrients.

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8. Period changes

Most of the time, changes in the menstrual cycle don’t occur until the disease is in more advanced stages. Abnormal bleeding is one of the rarer early signs of ovarian cancer that almost always prompts women to see medical attention, Dr. Tarricone explained. Heavier than normal bleeding, bleeding between periods, or a period lasting longer than normal are all considered abnormal bleeding, he added.

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9. Unexplained weight gain or loss

Weight loss is not always a cause for concern, especially if the reason is intentional dieting. But an unexplained loss of appetite and weight loss could point to something more serious. When the body fights ovarian cancer, it produces cytokines to fight the disease and they may lead to loss of muscle and decreased appetite.

Weight gain, however, may have a more direct connection to cancer. Weight gain may be due to fluid buildup in the abdomen or in the pelvis. “Fluid is heavy,” Dr. tarricone said. “[The fluid] also makes the belly stick out more and that’s why it looks like the pants don’t fit anymore.”

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10. Back pain

Back pain may develop in women with ovarian cancer due to fluid buildup in the pelvic area, especially if the uterus is tipped backwards, according to Dr. Tarricone. In this case, the ovaries sit behind the uterus and any enlargement, such as tumors growing, will put pressure on the nerves in the pelvis and in the back, causing pain, he explained. Fluid buildup in the pelvis can also cause back pain.

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