Ovarian Cancer Symptoms, Screening and Treatment

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Often there may be no symptoms of ovarian cancer until the disease has spread throughout the abdomen. Even then, the symptoms are often vague and can be confused with other conditions. They include:

  • Feeling bloated;
  • Abdominal discomfort and/or backaches;
  • Gas or indigestion that can't otherwise be explained;
  • A feeling of fullness, even after a light meal;
  • Nausea or loss of appetite;
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing;
  • Pain during sexual intercourse;
  • Change in menstrual flow;
  • Feeling tired; and/or
  • Slight fever.

In addition, as the cancer grows, it can cause pressure on other organs and may cause frequent urination, constipation and weight change. However, all of these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions. Women experiencing these symptoms for more than a few weeks should talk to their health care provider about them. Ovarian cancer may be easier to treat if found early.

Should I get screened for ovarian cancer?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies follow the ovarian cancer screening recommendations set forth by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force which recommend against ovarian cancer screening for women at average risk for the disease. If a woman has ovarian cancer in her family history, or if she is having symptoms, she should talk to her doctor about screening for ovarian cancer.

How is ovarian cancer treated?

An aggressive approach to disease management can maximize chances for survival. Once a diagnosis of ovarian cancer is suspected, an appointment with a gynecologic oncologist is highly recommended. For most patients, surgery to remove all of the cancer that can be seen is required, a process known as "debulking". Appropriate staging of the cancer is very important as it allows the doctor to design the best treatment plan. Surgery is generally followed by a course of chemotherapy. Clinical trials have led to several new chemotherapy drugs and routes of administration which are improving outcomes in this disease.

Where do I find a gynecologic oncologist?

If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist. Gynecologic oncologists are doctors who are specially trained to care for women with cancers such as cervical cancer, endometrial cancer, uterine cancer, or ovarian cancer. You can find a gynecologic oncologist in your area at Foundation for Women’s Cancer or the National Cancer Institute’s “Choosing a Cancer Care Specialist” webpages.