Unusual Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer, and When to Seek Care

by Ebony R. Hoskins, MD, Gynecologic Oncology
September 10, 2021

Ovarian cancer rates have declined in recent decades, but in the United States this year over 21,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and nearly 14,000 women will die from it.

The sooner ovarian cancer is detected, the sooner it can be treated. Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • A feeling of fullness
  • Trouble with or frequent urination

Unfortunately, the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer mimic those of common conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or urinary tract infections, menstrual periods, or even just the day-to-day body fluctuations we experience.

If you experience symptoms for two weeks or longer, it’s time to seek care. Some women experience more unusual symptoms, such as:

  • Back pain
  • Constipation
  • Gas and indigestion
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Reflux symptoms, including chest pain or heartburn

The more in tune you are with your body, the faster you can tell when something is off. It also helps to know your risk factors. I’ll share the most common ones and then discuss your best next steps if you think something is not right.

Risk factors for ovarian cancer.

Nearly 94% of patients live longer than five years when they receive an early diagnosis. While there currently are no reliable screening tests to detect ovarian cancer, risk factors include:

  • Being age 60 or older
  • Having a family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Having children later in life or never having a full-term pregnancy
  • Taking hormone therapy after menopause
Symptoms of #OvarianCancer range from abdominal bloating to back and chest pain. The better you know your body, the faster you can tell when something is off. @drebonyhoskins discusses when to seek care: https://bit.ly/3zbeyBH.

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Notice symptoms? Here are your next steps.

After two weeks of symptoms, make an appointment with your primary care provider or gynecologist to rule out less serious conditions. If your body doesn’t feel right and you are not satisfied with your provider’s initial evaluation, seek a second opinion. Remember, nobody knows what’s normal for your body better than you.

To test for ovarian cancer, you’ll likely have a pelvic ultrasound to check your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus for cysts or an abnormal tissue mass (also called a tumor or neoplasm). Ovarian cysts and tumors can be, and often are, benign (noncancerous).

If you are signed up for myMedStar electronic medical records, you might see your ultrasound results before your doctor reviews and evaluates them. This is because of the new ONC Cures Act Final Rule, which requires health care providers to give you access to all of your electronic health information. If this happens, you’ll probably see some confusing terminology. Please do not use Google to self-diagnose—ask your provider questions instead.

If the ultrasound detects abnormalities, your doctor might request a CT scan of your abdomen or pelvis for a better view. If they suspect cancer based on the size or shape of any tumors, they’ll refer you to a gynecologic oncologist—like me. My patients have better results when their primary care provider has already examined and referred them to me because we can begin treatment right away.

Identifying, staging, and treating ovarian cancer.

A staging procedure is part of the process to determine if an ovarian tumor is malignant (cancerous). We remove and test tissue samples from the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and lymph nodes to determine what, if any, stage of cancer to diagnose.

Ovarian cancer has four stages, based on whether and how far the cancer has spread:

  1. The cancer is in one or both ovaries or one or both fallopian tubes.
  2. The cancer in the ovaries or fallopian tubes has spread to nearby organs, such as the uterus or bladder.
  3. The cancer has spread from the pelvis to parts of the abdomen, such as lymph nodes.
  4. The cancer has spread to areas outside of the abdomen, such as the lungs.

Depending on the stage, we may recommend surgically removing just one or both ovaries and fallopian tubes. If the cancer is aggressive, we likely will recommend debulking surgery, where we remove all tissue affected by cancer along with both ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Many patients with ovarian cancer also get IV chemotherapy before and/or after surgery, depending on their general health and cancer stage. New research suggests that having surgery first gives some patients better results by removing cancer cells that may be resistant to chemotherapy.

Transparent, collaborative care.

At MedStar Health, you get all of your care within one system, and often under one roof. We work closely with other MedStar Health providers to create a personalized treatment plan for a primary evaluation, surgery, and chemotherapy based on your unique condition.

After treatment, it’s important to comply with your doctor’s recommendations for follow-up care to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. Once surgery and chemotherapy are complete, we recommend a physical and pelvic exam every two to four months for two years; every six months for three years; and then once a year.

Above all, seek medical care when your body and mind tell you something isn’t right—even if your health care provider disagrees. We will be straightforward with you about tests that can help us either rule out or diagnose the condition that might be causing your symptoms. Our goal is to build a relationship with you and design a personalized care plan to get you back to good health as soon as possible.

Have you experienced abdominal pain, bloating, or discomfort for over 2 weeks?

Schedule an appointment with a gynecologist today.

Call 202-877-DOCS (3627) or Request an Appointment

Category: Healthy Living     Tags: Ovarian Cancerovarian cancer symptomsovarian cancer treatment