How to Detect Ovarian Cancer
The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2019, about 22,530 women will be newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the U.S. Sadly, about 13,980 women will die from the disease. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, and it claims more lives than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. The disease is more common in older women; about half who are diagnosed are age 63 or older.
There is some good news, however: The rate at which ovarian cancer is diagnosed has been steadily declining over the past two decades, and when women know how to detect ovarian cancer early and what symptoms to look for, the survival rate can be quite high.
Early Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Early stages of this disease often cause no symptoms. In addition, symptoms that are present can also be caused by other less serious conditions as well. The most common symptoms include pelvic or abdominal pain, feeling full quickly or difficulty eating, urinary tract infection-like symptoms, such as always having to go often or feeling like you always need to go, and bloating. Other symptoms can include pain during sex, constipation, back pain, an upset stomach, and extreme fatigue.
While these symptoms can signal other conditions, when they are caused by ovarian cancer, they tend to be a change from the normal and also persistent – they will occur more often and be more severe. The American Cancer Society recommends that if you have these symptoms more often than 12 times per month that you visit your doctor.
Screening Tests to Detect Ovarian Cancer
- Many women mistakenly think that a pap test can screen for ovarian cancer; however, this is false; a pap can detect the possibility of uterine cancer, not ovarian. Women 18-34 should have an annual vaginal exam, and women 35 and older should have an annual rectovaginal exam so the doctor can check for abnormal swelling and tenderness.
- Transvaginal sonography is an ultrasound with a small instrument inserted into the vagina that is recommended especially for women at high risk for ovarian cancer, such as women who have families with a history of the disease.
- The CA-125 test is one that is not often used as a screening tool; some non-cancerous ovary issues can increase CA-125 levels, and some ovarian cancers might not raise CA-125 levels enough.
- If any test or exam is positive, women should consult a gynecologic oncologist, who will evaluate test results and possibly order further tests, such as a CT scan or a biopsy.
New developments, tests, and research on how to detect ovarian cancer earlier and more accurately are ongoing. It’s important that women keep true to annual exam schedules with their doctors, and should they notice symptoms of ovarian cancer that are unusual or persistent, they should not hesitate to make an appointment with their doctors right away to have the best chance of diagnosing, treating, and eliminating the cancer before it’s too late.