Ovarian Cancer - Symptoms

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For ovarian cancer, what were the symptoms and signs you experienced?

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What are ovarian cancer symptoms and signs?

Screening tests are used to test a healthy population in an attempt to diagnose a disease at an early stage. Unfortunately, there are no good screening tests for ovarian cancer, despite extensive ongoing research. Imaging (ultrasound, X-rays, and CT scans), and blood tests should not be used as a screen, as they are inaccurate and lead many women to surgery who do not need it (they are false positive tests).

Diagnosis of ovarian cancer is often suspected based on symptoms and physical exam, and these are followed by imaging. The signs and symptoms, when present, are very vague. These can include fatigue, getting full quickly (early satiety), abdominal swelling, clothes suddenly not fitting, leg swelling, changes in bowel habits, changes in bladder habits, abdominal pain, and shortness of breath. As mentioned above, these symptoms can be very subtle and vague, as well as very common. This only makes diagnosing the disease that much more difficult. Some studies suggest that the average patient with ovarian cancer sees up to three different doctors prior to obtaining a definitive diagnosis. Often, it is the persistence of the patient that leads to a diagnosis. OLMPT and some benign tumors can present with similar symptoms. In addition, they are often seen with very large masses in the ovary. Often these masses are large enough to cause bloating, abdominal distension, constipation, and changes in bladder habits.

In the more uncommon ovarian types (stromal and germ cell tumors), symptoms are similar. Sometimes, granulosa cell tumors can occur with severe pain and blood in the belly from a ruptured tumor. These can often be confused with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, as they tend to be found in women of reproductive age.

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Comment from: Rwwoc, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: May 13

I was feeling bloated and gassy, and had lower back pain and distended abdomen. The symptoms came on suddenly and I had a diagnosis of ovarian cancer 2 weeks after seeing my primary care doctor and a month after noticing symptoms. I am never sick and I told my doctor I knew there was something wrong so she quickly ordered the ultrasound which led to a CT scan, MRI and then surgery.

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Comment from: English Rose, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: June 05

I had symptoms for at least nine months before being correctly diagnosed with ovarian cancer (OC). The major symptom was bloating, but also weight gain, diarrhea, abdominal tenderness, lower back pain, and hormonal changes (increased hair growth). It took several months before my general physician (GP) referred me to a gastrointestinal (GI) specialist, and my GP, the specialist, and I, too, thought my symptoms were gastric. Of course, a CT scan would have revealed more information. At any rate, I did not improve. One evening, after physical exertion, I had excruciating abdominal pain on my right side and went to the emergency room (ER) 24 hours later. After several tests that revealed a lot of fluid build-up, my husband and I were told that I had ovarian cancer. My CA-125 test was (and has remained) negative. Patients must be assertive in pressing their doctors for more tests if symptoms do not improve. I was very lucky that the extreme pain that sent me to the ER was caused by an ovary bursting. That led to more tests which confirmed OC. I am staged at 1C and the cancer had not spread beyond the one burst ovary. But if my ovary had not burst, I don't know how much longer it would have taken before diagnosis. I had some but not many risk factors. I was not overweight, did not have a family history of OC, and took the pill for many years, so these would suggest a lower than average risk for OC. But age was against me (65) and I never had any children. I was referred to a wonderful gynecological oncologist and underwent extensive surgery followed by six rounds of paclitaxel and carboplatin. I'm now four months on from the last chemotherapy treatment and initial follow-up tests look good. Fingers crossed.

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