Early Warning Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

In most cases, ovarian cancer isn’t diagnosed until it has progressed to an advanced stage. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, only about 20 percent of cases are diagnosed at an early stage. Typically, this is because ovarian cancer symptoms either aren’t apparent in the early stages of the disease or they mimic common stomach and digestive issues that are often mistaken for minor ailments.

Women are more likely to experience symptoms once the disease has spread beyond the ovaries, typically to the lymph nodes outside the abdomen, the skin, the liver, the spleen, the fluid around the lungs, the intestines or the brain.

Symptoms caused by ovarian tumors may be confused with less serious, noncancerous conditions. If you experience persistent symptoms for more than a few weeks or notice a change in your ovarian health, consult a doctor for follow-up.

Common symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal bloating, indigestion or nausea
  • Changes in appetite, such as a loss of appetite or feeling full sooner
  • Pressure in the pelvis or lower back
  • A more frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Increased abdominal girth
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Changes in menstruation

Risk Factors

Ovarian cancer occurs more frequently under the following conditions:

  • History of ovarian cancer in your immediate family
  • Age (over 50 years)
  • No children (the greater the number of pregnancies, the lower the risk for developing ovarian cancer)
  • Past history of breast cancer
  • Race-ovarian cancer occurs 50% more frequently in white women than African American women.
  • Jewish descent
  • Hormone replacement therapy in post-menopausal women very slightly increases the risk for ovarian cancer
  • Infertility drug use- a nearly 3-fold increase in risk was found, with a substantially greater risk in those who fail to conceive. However, this is not a consistent finding and most of these "carcinomas" are borderline tumors.
  • High fat diet is associated with higher rates of ovarian cancer in industrialized nations, but the link remains unproven.
  • Talc-use of cosmetic talc in feminine hygiene sprays or in sanitary napkins has been suggested as a risk factor. However, this is not a consistent finding.