Ovarian cancer does not always produce symptoms. Additionally, when symptoms occur, it is usually because the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage. For this reason, it is important to recognize the signs, pay close attention to your body, become familiar with what is normal for you and promptly report anything unusual to a physician. Early detection and treatment can significantly increase your chances of achieving the best possible outcome and quality of life.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
While ovarian cancer will not necessarily affect your menstrual cycle – especially when the cancer is in its earliest stages – its symptoms are often vague and may be dismissed because they mimic the effects of the cyclic hormonal changes that occur naturally within your body. Some of the most common signs include:
- Pelvic or lower back pain
- Abdominal fullness, bloating or pressure
- Gastrointestinal distress, which may include a loss of appetite, indigestion, gas, diarrhea, constipation, nausea or heartburn
- Urinary urgency or frequency
- Sudden weight loss
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
Typically, a physician will begin the diagnostic process with a pelvic examination. Then, he or she may order an imaging test, such as a transvaginal ultrasound, which can show the size, shape and structure of the ovaries in detail. If a physician suspects cancer based on the results of preliminary testing, he or she may then order further imaging tests and also obtain a small sample of blood, tissue or abdominal fluid for evaluation under a microscope. For instance, a physician may order a blood test that can detect the CA-125 protein, which occurs on the surfaces of ovarian cancer cells.
Medically reviewed by Hye Sook Chon, MD, gynecologic oncologist
If you’d like to learn more about ovarian cancer symptoms and treatment options, contact Moffitt Cancer Center. You can request an appointment with an oncologist in our gynecologic clinic by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online. Referrals are welcome but never required. Virtual visits appointments may also be available.