Know the Signs: Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer Often Subtle

By: Mary Urban

With approximately 22,380 women in the United States diagnosed and 15,500 deaths projected for 2012 by the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers. It ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women. All women are at risk for ovarian cancer.

Currently, there is no early-detection test for ovarian cancer and pap tests do not detect the disease. If detected and treated early, when the cancer is confined to the ovary, the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent. Unfortunately, less than 20 percent are diagnosed early and over 70 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will not survive the disease.

Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect, especially in the early stages. This is partly due to the fact that these two small, almond shaped organs are deep within the abdominal cavity, one on each side of the uterus. These are some of the potential signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer:
  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Constipation or menstrual changes
Until an early-detection test is developed, the key is awareness and recognition of the subtle symptoms of ovarian cancer. Encourage the women in your life to talk to a gynecologist when symptoms persist or worsen over time. Tell her to ask for a recto-vaginal exam or a transvaginal ultrasound, which are tests that can help lead to a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer does not affect only the life of the woman with the disease; it affects her entire community – from family and friends, to co-workers and acquaintances. The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) provides information and support to everyone affected by ovarian cancer, because ovarian cancer is more than a woman’s disease.

For more information on ovarian cancer, or to get involved to raise awareness and support ovarian cancer survivors, please contact the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition at 888-OVARIAN or

Together we can make a difference in the lives of women affected by ovarian cancer. Together, we can break the silence on ovarian cancer.

Mary Urban is the Pittsburgh Chapter Manager of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.