Ovarian cancer: Not so silent after all

Because so many women discovered their ovarian cancer when it was too late to take action, the condition earned a reputation as a silent killer.

Fortunately, that’s an unfair reputation.

The problem that led to so many late diagnoses is that the symptoms of ovarian cancer are things that most women experience fairly regularly. It’s only when they persist that they become indicators of something wrong. Take a look at the symptoms, and you’ll see what I mean:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary difficulties, like having to pee more often than usual or having a more urgent feeling when you need to pee

I think most women experience at least one of those every month. The symptoms are common in short bursts and could just mean you ate too many potato chips again. What’s uncommon and could mean trouble is having these symptoms for more than two weeks. You should not be bloated for two weeks. You should not have pain in your abdomen for two weeks.

If you reach the two-week mark on any of the above symptoms, get in touch with your primary care provider. Early diagnosis gives the best chance for a cure. You need a pelvic exam and a pelvic ultrasound to determine whether your ovaries are healthy.

You may also have heard about the CA 125 test — a blood test for an antigen that shows up when you have ovarian tumors. On its own, the test isn’t reliable enough for identifying cancer. (Some women who have ovarian cancer never have elevated CA 125 levels, and sometimes more CA 125 is a result of endometriosis, fibroids, or other conditions.) However, it often is part of the testing used to uncover ovarian cancer.

As with so many cancers, family history makes you more vulnerable. If your mom or sister has ovarian cancer, you could be at increased risk of having it, too. BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations may indicate an increased risk of breast or ovarian cancer. (Watch for a podcast on that very thing.) But for now, keep tabs on your body: A little bloating is no big deal, but two weeks of it means you need to take action.

If you have questions about ovarian cancer — or any other health concern — you can call 317-338-4-HER to talk to a registered nurse or use this form to talk to me directly.

Related Stories