Ovarian cancer: Gynecologists explain subtle symptoms and early signs you should NEVER ignore
Ovarian cancer is a growth of cells that form in the ovaries. These multiply quickly and can invade and destroy healthy body tissue.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), ovarian cancer is the third most common cancer among Indian women, accounting for 6-10% of all cancers in women in the country, explains Dr. Manisha Munemane, Director Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Surya Mother and Child Super Speciality Hospital Pune.
“The most common gynecological cancer is breast followed by cervical cancer,” adds Dr. Ritu Sethi (Gynaecologist & Obstetrician)- Director, The Aura Speciality Clinic Gurgaon & Senior Consultant- Gynaecology, Cloud Nine Hospitals, Gurgaon.
Early-stage ovarian cancer usually does not cause any symptoms, which can lead to missed diagnoses, explains Dr. Niti Kautish, Director and Head, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Fortis Escorts Hospital, Faridabad.
Nevertheless, there are a few subtle symptoms or early warning signs that one should never ignore, adds Dr. Munemane. These include:
Pelvic pain: Pelvic pain that is persistent or recurrent, can be a symptom of ovarian cancer.
Feeling full quickly: Feeling full quickly after eating, even if you have not eaten much, can be a symptom of ovarian cancer.
Fatigue: Feeling tired and weak, even after getting enough rest, can be a symptom of ovarian cancer.
Dr. Kautish shares other symptoms that may be present due to cancer spreading or affecting other body systems. These include:
Back pain: This can occur if the cancer spreads to the spine.
Abdominal bloating, difficulty eating, early satiety, nausea, vomiting, or constipation: These symptoms may be due to the cancer-causing obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract.
Decreased urination, bladder fullness, or leakage of urine: Urinary symptoms may develop due to the cancer-causing obstruction of the urinary tract.
Difficulty breathing: This can be due to fluid in the abdomen pushing up on the diaphragm (the muscle responsible for breathing), fluid in the lining of the lungs, or a clot in the blood vessels of the lungs.
“It is important to note that having one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have ovarian cancer. However, if you experience any of these symptoms persistently for more than a few weeks, you should see a doctor for evaluation. Early detection and treatment of ovarian cancer can greatly improve the chances of successful treatment and survival,” adds Dr. Munemane.
Who is at risk of ovarian cancer?
Dr. Munemane explains that ovarian cancer can occur in women of all ages, but the risk of developing ovarian cancer increases as women get older (55 or above).
The incidence of ovarian cancer also varies based on several other factors, including family history of ovarian or breast cancer, certain genetic mutations (such as BRCA1 or BRCA2), and the use of hormone replacement therapy, she continues.
Women with a family history of ovarian or breast cancer or those who carry certain genetic mutations may be at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, even at a younger age. It’s important to note that while certain factors may increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer, many women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer have no known risk factors, she adds.
Dr. Sethi adds that people at risk “should be more cautious and should tell her doctor about these problems and go in for regular checkups. It is important to plan a pregnancy.”