Historically ovarian cancer was called the “silent killer” because symptoms were not thought to develop until the chance of cure was poor. However, recent studies have shown this term is untrue and that the following symptoms are much more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than women in the general population. These symptoms include:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
Women with ovarian cancer report that symptoms are persistent and represent a change from normal for their bodies. The frequency and/or number of such symptoms are key factors in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Several studies show that even early stage ovarian cancer can produce these symptoms. Women who have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks should see their doctor, preferably a gynecologist. Prompt medical evaluation may lead to detection at the earliest possible stage of the disease. Early stage diagnosis is associated with an improved prognosis. Several other symptoms have been commonly reported by women with ovarian cancer. These symptoms include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities. However, these other symptoms are not as useful in identifying ovarian cancer because they are also found in equal frequency in women in the general population who do not have ovarian cancer.
A .pdf copy of the “Ovarian Cancer Symptoms Consensus Statement” is available above. Simply “click” on the top caption and click again on the .pdf document. You will need Adobe Reader to view the document. If you do not have Adobe Reader, a free version is available at the Adobe website.
Ovarian Cancer Symptoms, National Cancer Institute website.
Ovarian Cancer Has Early Symptoms, American Cancer Society (ACS) website.
Frequency of Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer in Women Presenting to Primary Care Clinics, Goff B. et al., Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), June 9, 2004, Vol 291, No. 22, pp. 2705 -2712.
Ovarian Carcinoma Diagnosis, Cancer 2000 Nov 15;89(10):2068-7.
Recognize the Signs of Ovarian Cancer, M.D. Anderson OncoLog, November 2007, Vol. 52, No. 11.
What Every Woman Should Know, Johns Hopkins Medical Institute website.
Ovarian Cancer Signs and Symptoms — Mayo Clinic website.
Ovarian Cancer: 4 Early Signs – WebMD website.
Katie Couric, CBS News “Eye to Eye,” June 14, 2007 (see video below)