June 26, 2007

Ovarian Cancer Warning Signs

A couple of weeks ago, there was a headline that seemed to give some encouraging news about earlier detection of Ovarian Cancer. Crabby was quite happy to see this news: "Ovarian Cancer Has Early Warning Signs."

Why did this seem like such good news? A couple of reasons:

1. Ovarian cancer can be a deadly disease if not caught early; and

2. It's been known as a "silent killer" because it's so rarely detected until the later stages.

But reading beyond the headlines, the news didn't sound so encouraging after all. Crabby almost decided not to post about it, but since some information is better than none, and some of you might have missed this, she'll pass it along. This information comes via the American Cancer Society, the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, and the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists, and seventeen other cancer organizations have endorsed it. So who is Crabby to say it won't be useful?

So here are some important symptoms to watch out for:

Pelvic or abdominal pain;


Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly; and

Urgent or frequent urination.

What bothers Crabby is that these seem both a bit vague and also very common. Most times, if they mean anything at all, it's more likely irritable bowel syndrome, or menstrual bloating, or urinary tract infections, or any number of benign causes.

According to Barbara Goff, an impressively titled person at the University of Washington, women with any of these symptoms may want to see a gynecologist, especially if the problems are "new, severe and occur almost daily for more than two or three weeks." The next step is often pelvic and rectal exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, and a blood test for a cancer marker. Unfortunately, even these tests aren't very accurate. And further diagnostic testing is fairly invasive.

There are some other symptoms of ovarian cancer too, but these aren't always much help either because they're so darn common:

Irregular vaginal bleeding;

Gastro-intestinal symptoms such as heartburn and nausea;

Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation and diarrhea;

Tiredness and appetite loss; and

Unexplained weight loss or weight gain.

No woman wants to be thought of as a neurotic hypochondriac. But checking out early warning signs could save your life.

And really, it's good news that most people with these symptoms don't have cancer. So if you notice these warning signs, you don't have to freak out.

But do stop into your doctor's office, especially if the symptoms are new and severe and don't go away soon. Please?


  1. I recall reading about these warning signs recently and thinking they were common, vague, and could be many other disorders.
    Still good to know about them, especially anything that's new or severe, or sudden onset.
    And excellent reminder Crabby: don't freak out.

  2. I think it's really sad that the idea of being thought of as a hypochondriac for getting symptoms checked out even needs to come up in the first place. :(

  3. Hi leah,
    Sounds like you had the same reaction I did. And I imagine it would be hard to negotiate that mental space between "don't ignore" and "don't freak out," especially if you find yourself with symptoms that are so common but also possibly dangerous.

    Hi chicken girl!
    Yeah, it is a shame isn't it? But women are so often thought of as hypochonriacs whenever we complain about things that I think many of us may have internalized it.

  4. They did to work out a simple test they can do that can be done on check ups -- there is a blood test but you have to ask for it, and it's expensive. I had it done before I adopted our daughter from China - I wanted to be as sure as I could be that I was going to be around for awhile (I had a hysterectomy in my early 20's for cervical cancer - but I still have my ovaries). The doctor gave me a hard time and said I was too young - I foreced the issue -- I was too young for cervical cancer too but if I hadn't pushed the doctor then about my odd test results I could have died.

    Good Post Crabby - we all need to be aware of our bodies and our health. Lady Rose

    PS there is a great recipe posted on The Diet Pulpit you might light -- so good you don't even know it's healthy! from our new guest contributor: Chef

  5. I have such mixed feelings about this announcement. These are the same symptoms that we have always been told to watch for. Now we have a time frame, i.e. if the symptom lasts for two or three weeks, call the doctor. Then have a couple of inconclusive tests and see what happens.

    Of course it does put the doctors on notice that when we come in with these symptoms, we will expect them to be looking for, among other things, ovarian cancer.

    If medical science spent half the time and resources developing accurate tests for ovarian cancer that they spent on developing erectile dysfunction treatments, the death rate from this disease would be cut in half.


  6. Hi Lady Rose,
    Good for you for pushing your doctors a bit when you've had concerns--sounds like the cervical cancer wouldn't have been caught if you weren't insistent! And, yes, to totally change the subject, I'll definitely have to go check out that recipe--I love stuff that's healthy but doesn't taste like it.

    Hi Terrie,
    Great point, I totally agree with you--I can't believe how much money we spend on so many less important (or even misguided) issues when that money could be saving lives!

  7. You point out the bind: the symptoms aren't unique enough to know for sure that they are a sign of cancer. For those of us without stellar health insurance, it can hard to justify spending $$$ for a doctor's appointment when the most likely prescription will be "take a Midol." That means waiting until the next scheduled checkup, gyno or otherwise.

  8. They have actually known about these symptoms for at least 10-15 years, but too many docs ignore them....or don't put them all together.

    Ovarian is often "silent" in that the symptoms aren't recognized. But most women, looking back, agree that they've had several of these symptoms.

    I think this is the reason they're making this public....so women will insist on follow up if their docs blow them off. Unfortunately, often the only way to really find ovarian cancer is to do a biopsy of the ovary....and that means an invasive procedure.

    Believe me, NO ONE is too young!! I knew a girl once that was diagnosed at age 15...and it had already spread! She had been going to her doc for many months with these exact symptoms...but it was only when her periods became irregular (not a common sign!) that her doc figured it out!

  9. Hi Peggy,
    Yep, money can be a huge problem when deciding whether to check out vague symptoms--which is awful, considering what might be at stake. I'll sure be glad when we get health care better figured out in this country!

    Hi Cindy,
    God, that story is so scary! And at 15 (or any age, really) irregular periods are so common in people who don't have cancer. Yikes.

  10. hello, my neice kelsey was just diagnosed with ovarian cancer, this last friday, aug 3,07. she turned 15 in march. we are floored. we are a VERY close family. she had her surgery at iu in indianpolis, in. now we are waiting on the tissue and lymp nodes results, and which type of ovarian it is. her overy and fal tube were removed, her overy was the size of a football. kelsey had thought it was just mussle. can anyone point me in the right direction of the best website to find information. i keep seeing people have lived 5 years, have there been anyone that has lived longer...

  11. oh and by the way, kelsey had none of the symptoms. she had recently lost a little bit of weight, but she was trying, she is interested in boys and took off a few pounds.

  12. Sypdareyes,
    I'm so sorry to hear about Kelsey's diagnosis--you all must be coping with so much.

    One place to start might be here, Ovarian Cancer, where they information and a support and resources section. You can also try searching blogs on google to see if there is one about ovarian cancer. (But you probably already have, and by now have found a better resource than this one!) I'm glad Kelsey has such a supportive family, and I'm so sorry to hear about this--best of luck.


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