One of the most deadly cancers to affect women has few clear symptoms and no reliable screening test. Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women and it causes more deaths than any other cancer that affects the female reproductive system, more than 16,000 women a year.
This cancer is particularly deadly because the early symptoms are vague. They include:
- Bloating or swollen belly
- Difficulty eating
- Feeling full quickly
- Pelvic or lower abdominal pain
- Unexplained back pain
- Vaginal bleeding between periods
- Constipation, gas or indigestion
All of these symptoms could be attributed to other conditions but you should see your doctor if experience any of these daily for two weeks or longer.
No one knows what causes ovarian cancer, but you are at risk if you have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene defect, if you take estrogen replacement therapy (without progesterone) for five years or longer and if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
Your doctor will do a physical exam to see if there are any abnormalities and a pelvic exam. Some women may also get a CA-125 blood test, which is not a useful as a more general screening for ovarian cancer.
Women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are treated with surgery and then chemotherapy. It's important to get treated early; the five-year survival rate is high for women whose cancer is spotted in the early stages.