There is no screening method for early detection for ovarian cancer. The symptoms of the disease are vague, and are not always gynecologic. But research shows that women with ovarian cancer often report having the following symptoms:
A swollen or bloated abdomen, increased girth. Some women notice that their pants or skirts are getting tight around the waist. The bloating is a sign that fluid, called ascites, is building up in the abdominal cavity in later stage disease
Persistent pressure or pain in the abdomen or pelvis
Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
Urinary concerns, such as urgency or frequency
Change in bowel habits with new onset constipation and/or diarrhea
Unexplained vaginal bleeding
Any woman may have these symptoms for reasons not related to ovarian cancer. However, if these symptoms are new and unusual, and persist daily for more than two weeks, a woman should see her doctor, preferably a gynecologist, and should ask about ovarian cancer.
Many women who are eventually diagnosed with ovarian cancer spend several weeks or months seeing a variety of specialists to address symptoms, like those above. For digestive symptoms, such as pressure in the abdomen, difficulty eating and constipation, they will see a gastroenterologist and might be diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. For urinary problems, such as frequency or urgency, other symptoms seen in ovarian cancer, women often see a urologist, and are told they have a urinary tract infection. These different specialists are not likely to perform a pelvic examination that might identify an ovarian tumor. Many women don’t go to their OB/GYN, as it never occurs to them that the symptoms they are having are related to their reproductive systems, or to ovarian cancer. This delay in diagnosis can allow the disease to progress, making it harder to treat successfully. Studies show that even women with early stage ovarian cancer can get the symptoms listed. Prompt attention may lead to detection of the disease at its earliest stage and with its best prognosis.
If a woman has some suspicion she is having gynecological problems or has the symptoms of ovarian cancer she should see her OB/GYN. If there is suspicion she may have ovarian cancer based on early testing, she should seek a referral to a gynecologic oncologist as soon as possible before undergoing surgery, when the gynecologic oncologist will biopsy the ovary and assess the disease spread. Gynecologic oncologists are specially trained physicians with expertise in diagnosing, performing surgical interventions and managing chemotherapy and other medical issues for ovarian cancer patients. Studies show that women with ovarian cancer treated by gynecological oncologists live longer than women treated by physicians without this specialty training.