Ovarian Cancer : Trust Your Instincts
When I visited home for Christmas in 2019, I had a brief conversation with my mom that haunts me to this day. She was telling me about how she had to pee so much more lately – how she had to get up so much more during the night – and that when she went in to see her doctor, she had attributed it to her “just getting older.” A somewhat infuriating assumption by her doctor, considering at the time she was only 57 and increased need to urinate is a common symptom of ovarian cancer.
My mom was keenly aware of changes in her body, but she was strong and resilient, and she never thought something so deadly could just sneak up on her. Ovarian cancer is a disease that in almost all cases only makes itself known when it becomes almost impossible to cure. Only 20% of cases are caught in stages I or II, and the prognosis for cancer that has progressed beyond that is bleak. The average five-year survival rate drops by 33% between stages II and III (74% for stage II and 41% for stage III). The relative five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer at any stage, based on stage at diagnosis, is 50%. In comparison, the five-year relative survival rate for breast cancer is over 90%. There is also no screening for ovarian cancer, like there is with cervical cancer and breast cancer. As a result, it is essential that those of us at risk remain vigilant of any changes in our bodies and advocate for ourselves when we feel like something is wrong.
To help you better understand what to look for in yourself or your loved ones, I have compiled a detailed list of symptoms associated with ovarian cancer. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms on a regular basis, don’t stop yourself from visiting your doctor just because you think you might be acting dramatic. Over 19,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with this deadly disease in 2023, and for most of them, their symptoms will have appeared very innocent.
The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer, according to the American Cancer Society include:
- Pelvic or abdominal (belly) pain
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms such as urgency (always feeling like you need to pee) or frequency (feeling like you need to go pee more often than normal)
Other symptoms may include:
- Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
- Upset stomach
- Back pain
- Pain during sex
- Changes in your period (like heavier bleeding than normal or irregular bleeding)
- Abdominal (belly) swelling with weight loss
These symptoms are also seen with many other less dangerous conditions, and as a result, doctors may be inclined to attribute them to something benign. However, since ovarian cancer has so few early symptoms, and those symptoms overlap with many other conditions, it is essential that our doctors take a proactive approach and rule it out before making assumptions based on probability.
If you feel, at any point while receiving care from your doctor, that you cannot rely on them to take steps to ensure your wellbeing, don’t be afraid to switch to another doctor. Seeking out a proactive, committed doctor early on can make all the difference in catching and curing diseases like ovarian cancer that so often fly under the radar.