Knowledge can help beat ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is called "the silent killer" because it doesn’t show many—or sometimes any—symptoms until it’s progressed to a later stage. In fact, only 19 percent of cases are spotted in the early stages.

"Typically, ovarian cancer is discovered in its later stages after the symptoms become more pronounced," explained Geisinger hematologist-oncologist Namita Sharma, MD. "The cancer affects other parts of the body like the bladder or rectum by placing pressure on them, and that’s often when a woman will visit her doctor."

But there are some subtle signs that could emerge indicating something is wrong. These changes in your body may seem minor, and could even be mistaken for another less serious health issue. But if they last longer, they shouldn’t be ignored.

Here are four signs you shouldn’t ignore:

Bloating

Bloating happens. Sometimes it’s a big meal; other times it’s due to typical hormonal fluctuations during your menstrual cycle. But bloating everyday isn’t normal. If you notice that your jeans fit tighter and you feel bloat several days a week for more than two or three weeks, it may be cause for concern.

"Bloating could be due to an issue with your diet, but if you make some changes and the bloating persists, visit your doctor for an exam," said Dr. Sharma.

Increased need to urinate

Most people probably don’t count the number of trips they take to the bathroom each day. But urinating more frequently or feeling a sudden and desperate need to go could indicate that a tumor is pushing on your bladder.

Reduced appetite/indigestion

For some people, tummy troubles are common. Some women experience indigestion during their menstrual cycle. It’s also common to feel stomach pains if you’re stressed out or excited. But if you keep getting indigestion or nausea, or if you start feeling full faster, it could be a sign of ovarian cancer.

Lower abdominal/pelvic pain

Abdominal and pelvic pain can be common symptoms of menstruation or ovulation. Pain during ovulation is called "mittelschmerz" or literally, "middle pain" because it’s in the middle of the menstrual cycles. But if you notice consistent lower abdominal and pelvic pain outside the time when you would normally ovulate, it may be a sign of ovarian cancer.

In addition, some people may notice fatigue, back pain or pain while having sex.

"What’s common among all of these symptoms is their duration," said Dr. Sharma. "If you notice that any of these symptoms last longer than a few weeks, you should see your doctor. Likewise, you should schedule a doctor’s appointment if you notice other changes in your body that persist for more than a few days."

Hematologist-oncologist Namita Sharma, MD, sees patients at Geisinger Community Medical Center’s Cancer Center in Scranton. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Sharma or another Geisinger hematologist-oncologist, please call 800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.

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