Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Cancer of the ovary, a disease affecting one of both of the ovaries, is one of the most serious and under-recognized ailments affecting women. In United States, it is considered as the fifth among the most fatal gynecologic cancers (affecting the female reproductive organs). It is said that in every 57 women, one may be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and almost half of those women diagnosed with the said cancer may die in a span of five years.

Ovarian Cancer: Overview

Ovarian cancer is characterized by the malignant growth of one or of the two ovaries. The cells in the ovary multiply progressively and abnormally to the point that they can no longer be controlled. As a result, excessive tissues start to form tumors, which may be benign or malignant. The malignant ones are those that cause cancer.

The growth of the tumor may not necessarily start from the ovary or the ovaries, but may have spread to the ovary from other parts of the body, oftentimes the breast. The malignant tumor in the ovary may likewise spread to other parts of the body. The most common cases of ovarian cancer arise from epithelial cancer, which affect the epithelial cells (cells found in the tissues covering surfaces of the ovary).

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

It is important for women to be aware of the nature and symptoms of ovarian cancer as this deadly cancer can affect women of any age. However, women face higher risk of ovarian cancer as she gets older, particularly after she reaches the age of fifty.

Most of the time, the symptoms of ovarian cancer do not show up until the cancer is widespread or in its advanced stage. This makes a woman at higher risk since it can be too late before she may be able to detect symptoms of ovarian cancer. Moreover, there are only very few symptoms of the cancer, which may be mistaken as symptoms of other health conditions.

The very first symptom of ovarian cancer is vague abdominal discomfort and bloating, which is caused by the excess fluid in the abdominal cavity. One always feels full even when she has not eaten much. As time passes by the swelling of the abdomen intensifies that some of your clothes may no longer fit you. Usually, it is because of this unusual swelling (way different from a woman's monthly water retention) that most women go to the doctor for check up.

Bloating is accompanied by digestive disturbances, unexplained changes in the bowel habits and urinary patterns. There are frequent trips to the bathroom even in the absence of a urinary tract infection or other health problems. One may feel nauseous, very tired and she may feel like vomiting at times. She may also feel discomfort and pain during an intercourse.

Pain and swelling in the pelvic area is also noticeable upon closer physical examination. This is due to the swelling in the pelvis. In very rare instances, a woman in her postmenopausal stage experiences abnormal bleeding.

Other vague and non-specific symptoms of ovarian cancer include back and leg pain, loss of appetite, undernourished appearance, weight gain or weigh loss, and unusual bleeding in the vagina (heavier and longer than the usual menstrual bleeding).

Detecting Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Screening is a way to detect the symptoms of ovarian cancer. The earlier the patient is screened, the better so as to decrease the mortality and morbidity of ovarian cancer. One of the most effective ways to detect the cancer in its early stage is through pelvic and rectal exam.

Ovarian Cancer Treatment

Ovarian cancer, a condition characterized by an overgrowth of malignant cells in one or both of the ovaries, is one of the deadliest and under-recognized cancers affecting women. Every year, there are more than 25,000 women that suffer from this deadly disease. Half of them are most likely to die within a period of five years.

Early Detection: Improves Ovarian Cancer Treatment

The sad thing about ovarian cancer is that during the early stage, there are usually no signs and symptoms that tell you about this disorder. Symptoms start to show up when the cancer is already widespread, making ovarian cancer treatment too difficult.

However, there are women who are lucky enough to detect the symptoms early on; hence, diagnosis is hastened up and ovarian cancer treatment is given immediately. Tests such as pelvic and rectal screening, ultrasound, x-ray and laparoscopy may help a doctor detect tumors in the ovaries.

At present, almost 75 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are not treated immediately due to late detection of the cancer. Experts say that when detection of the cancer is made early and when ovarian cancer treatment is given immediately, women diagnosed with the disease have 90% survival rate since the cancer can be easily treated in its early stage.

Diagnosis and Ovarian Cancer Treatment

When symptoms finally show up and the doctor suspects that a patient may have ovarian cancer, laparoscopy is conducted to confirm diagnosis. It is a direct visual examination of the abdominal cavity, the ovaries, the exterior of the fallopian tubes and the uterus using an instrument that is inserted just underneath the navel.

Upon confirmation of ovarian cancer, the doctor explores the extent of the cancer and submits the patient for surgery. The surgeon removes the growth or much of the malignant tissue. In most cases, the whole ovary or both of the ovaries and the fallopian tubes are removed as they the malignant cancer cells have already affected these areas. This kind of surgery is called salpingooophorectomy. If the malignant cells affect the uterus, hysterectomy is conducted (surgical removal of the uterus).

Surgery is usually ensued by radiotherapy, which is the use of high energy radiation to destroy malignant cancer cells in the body and shrink remaining tumors, which may later on become malignant. This procedure may be done using an external machine or a radioactive material put inside the body near the malignant cells.

The patient also undergoes chemotherapy, whereby the patient is given anti-cancer drugs to help hasten up ovarian cancer treatment. Drugs may be administered orally (through the mouth), intravenously (through the veins) or through the muscles (by means of injection of a needle.

Most anticancer drugs given to the patient have chemical compounds that are toxic to the malignant cells; thus, growth of the cancer cells is reduced or stopped. These anticancer drugs are called cytotoxic drugs. Other anticancer drugs used are synthetic forms of sex hormones such as androgen drugs and progesterone drugs.

In most instances, different kinds of anticancer drugs are prescribed in combination in order to speed up ovarian cancer treatment. However, not all ovarian cancer patients are given with the same anticancer drugs. The drugs given to a patient depends on the extent or stage of development of the ovarian cancer and her general health condition.

Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer

The fear of ovarian cancer is well founded: the majority of affected women die. Fortunately, more and more women undergo regular physical exams and are more in tune with their bodies than ever. This has led to earlier detections of this deadly disease and the earlier ovarian cancer is caught, the greater the likelihood of survival and reversal.

The symptoms of the disease have been discussed in detail, and women who suddenly notice that they have an elevated need to visit the rest room or find that they are not able to eat as much as they previously able to ingest during a meal, are encouraged to undergo diagnostic exams. The same is said for those women who suddenly feel an abdominal tenderness or pain. 

Yet do you know how diagnosing ovarian cancer is achieved?

A pelvic exam, which is done during the annual visit with the gynecologist, most often includes a probing of the uterus and the ovaries to check for any enlargement. If a change in size is detected either from one ovary to the next, or since the last exam, the odds are good that the physician will request a complete work up in the framework of a physical exam.

During a physical exam, a complete blood work up is also ordered and in cases of suspected cancerous growth, a test entitled CA-125 is ordered. It is imperative to understand that the test as a standalone will not offer a valid diagnosis of ovarian cancer. It simply measures the presence of CA-125 levels in the blood, which are an indicator of potentially cancerous cells in the body yet without truly providing the location from which these cells are shed.


Another diagnostic tool employed at the gynecologist's office may be the use of a transvaginal ultrasound. This tool is used in early pregnancy detection, especially when a previous pregnancy resulted in miscarriage, and permits for a wand to be vaginally inserted. This test provides stunning images of the ovaries and surrounding tissues and is of the utmost importance when seeking to diagnose ovarian cancer. This method also permits for a correct measurement of the tumor or tumors, the number of tumors, and their exact locations.

A biopsy is another method of checking for cancerous cells and it involves the removal of actual tissues from the ovaries. It is not surprising that this is not that frequently used to diagnose the cancer since any tumors on the ovaries - even if they are still benign - are subject to removal due to their high transmogrification rate into malignant tumors. It is, however, a most valuable tool in ascertaining the staging of the cancer and the potential for metastasizing.

Although diagnosing ovarian cancer requires a number of different steps to arrive at a conclusive result, it is not surprising that due to the high mortality rate associated with this cancer the need for treatment is immediate and decisive and for this reason many a physician will set a surgery date as she or he awaits the results of the tests to come in.