The disease was fairly advanced by the time it was diagnosed. For a year before diagnosis, her doctors said it was just irritable bowel syndrome, that's all—and they didn't recognize her vague symptoms as the warning signs of ovarian cancer.
Almost a year ago, my aunt died after a three-year struggle with ovarian cancer. She, too, had experienced vague symptoms and consulted multiple doctors for months before her cancer was finally discovered.
One of the biggest reasons that ovarian cancer is so deadly is that the symptoms are so nonspecific. From that Mayo Clinic link comes this information:
Recent studies have shown that women with ovarian cancer are more likely than are other women to consistently experience the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
- Urinary urgency
- Pelvic discomfort or pain
Additional signs and symptoms that women with ovarian cancer may experience include:
- Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
- Unexplained changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation
- Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
- Pain during intercourse (dyspareunia)
- A persistent lack of energy
- Low back pain
Now, how many of those problems have you experienced off and on? A lot, right? Gas, bloating, indigestion, constipation or diarrhea. Apparently what marks these as suggestive of ovarian cancer is persistence and worsening—rather than coming and going or acting up depending on what you've eaten, if those vague abdominal symptoms just don't go away, it's not a bad idea to ask your physician to give you a workup to rule out ovarian cancer. This might include a transvaginal ultrasound (using what I like to call the "cooter wand"), a rectovaginal exam (like a pelvic exam, only with two entry points), and/or a blood test to check your CA-125 level. (Note: CA-125 tests can be false-positive and freak you out, or miss many early-stage ovarian cancer cases, so it's not the be-all and end-all of ovarian cancer detection.)
On Saturday, May 3, I'll be taking part in the 11th Annual Break the Silence: Walk for Ovarian Cancer, held by the Illinois chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. The NOCC is the nation's leading ovarian cancer public information and education organization; the group promotes research, raises awareness about ovarian cancer, and provides support for women and families dealing with the disease. If you'd like to sponsor me, please visit my donation page. There's no minimum donation, and every little bit helps. I'm hoping to raise $500 overall.
Thanks for your consideration, and please spread the word about ovarian cancer's nonspecific and deceptive symptoms. Many women and many physicians don't think to suspect ovarian cancer, so it's incumbent on all of us to be familiar with the symptoms and be able to advocate for ourselves and the women we care for.