Symptoms & Risk Factors

Symptoms & Risk Factors

There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer, so all women need to be aware of the symptoms.

There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer, so all women need to be aware of the symptoms. The most commonly reported symptoms for ovarian cancer are:

  • Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating

  • Abdominal or pelvic pain

  • Feeling full quickly

  • Needing to urinate often or urgently

Additional symptoms are:

  • Changes in bowel habits

  • Unexplained weight gain or loss

  • Excessive fatigue

  • Lower back pain

  • Indigestion or nausea

  • Bleeding after menopause or in-between periods

  • Pain during sex or bleeding after

Women with ovarian cancer report that symptoms are persistent and represent a change from normal for their bodies. The frequency and/or number of such symptoms are key factors in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Some studies show that even early stage ovarian cancer can produce these symptoms.

Women who have these symptoms almost daily for more than two weeks should see their doctor, preferably a gynecologist.

Surgery by a gynecologic oncologist significantly improves outcomes stage of the disease. Early stage diagnosis is associated with an improved prognosis.

Risk Factors

Like any cancer, why one woman gets ovarian cancer and another does not remains a mystery. However, we do know there are factors that may increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer.

  • Women of any age are at risk, however risk increases with age.

  • If you have a personal or family history of ovarian, breast, colon, rectal or uterine cancer.

  • If you have not borne a child.

  • Personal history of endometriosis.

  • The most significant risk factor for ovarian cancer is an inherited genetic mutation in one of two genes: breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) or breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2). These genes are responsible for about 20 percent of all ovarian cancers.

Eastern European women and women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at a higher risk of carrying these mutations.

The overwhelming majority of women who get ovarian cancer have no known risk factors.

Genetic testing results can have an impact on the treatment plan. It is recommended that all women have genetic testing done at the time of diagnosis.

There are ways in which you can reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer:

  • surgical removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes

  • having children

  • using oral contraceptives

However, these methods are not suitable for all women, and many women having adopted protective measures may still develop ovarian cancer. It is important to discuss your risk, and appropriate management, with your doctor.