By Sue LeBreton
Ovarian cancer is sometimes called the “silent killer” but a more appropriate description is a “disease that whispers” because most women do report symptoms, even those who are diagnosed at an early stage. This is an excellent example of knowledge is power. If you know your body and the symptoms of ovarian cancer, you may be diagnosed at an earlier stage when survival rates are as high as 90 per cent.
Why is ovarian cancer often not detected in the early stages? Unfortunately, the symptoms can be vague and non-specific, mimicking conditions such as menopause or peri-menopause. Many doctors may also be unfamiliar with the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. Symptoms include one or more of the following:
• Pelvic or abdominal pain
• Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
• Urinary issues (need to go urgently or frequently)
• Back pain
• Fatigue or changes in sleep
• Nausea, indigestion or flatulence
• Changes in bowel function
• Menstrual irregularities
• Weight gain or loss
• Painful intercourse
• Vaginal bleeding
Do not dismiss any of these signs. If your symptoms last three weeks or longer see your health professional immediately. Ovarian cancer should not be taken lightly. It is the most serious gynecological cancer and the fifth most fatal cancer for women. Although ovarian cancer is rare before the age of 40, remember it can affect women of any age. In Canada and the United States, there is a lifetime risk that approximately one in 70 women will develop ovarian cancer. This year 1,750 Canadian women and 14,230 American women will die from this disease.
There is currently no screening test for ovarian cancer, although there is research underway. It is important to understand that your regular Pap smear can detect only cervical cancer. Likewise, the HPV vaccine helps prevent cervical cancer, not ovarian cancer.
As a woman become an advocate for your health. Be confident that you know your body best. The most important symptom to note is if there is a change to how you normally feel. When you visit your doctor, print and take a copy of the ovarian cancer symptoms from a reputable website. Discuss what your doctor feels may be causing these symptoms and any plans to investigate further. Remember, if you do not feel satisfied you can seek a second opinion.
When you see your doctor bring the list of your symptoms and detail when they began. Does anything you do make the symptoms better or worse? Has anyone on either side of your family had breast, ovarian or bowel cancer? All these details will help your doctor determine an appropriate course of action.
Learn the symptoms of ovarian cancer and share them with loved ones. Women can defeat ovarian cancer with knowledge.
Ovarian Cancer Canada: ovariancanada.org
American Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovariancancer
Sue LeBreton is a freelance writer with a special interest in medical issues.