More than 22,000 American women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, with Healthline reporting that 14,000 women die as a result of the disease¹. Ovarian cancer forms when abnormal ovary cells multiply out of control – and if left untreated, this type of cancer can quickly spread to other parts of the body.
Though ovarian cancer does show warning signs when it begins to grow, these signs aren’t obvious. In fact, they can initially seem like normal changes within the body. And that’s why it’s so important to understand what ovarian cancer can look like.
Detecting ovarian cancer early can greatly improve your odds of living cancer-free. But, in order to detect its earliest symptoms, here’s what you need to know.
These Factors Could Put You At Risk for Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer can strike any woman, at any time. However, there are certain risk factors that can increase the odds of developing this specific type of cancer.
While having a certain risk factor doesn’t mean you’ll develop the disease, it does increased the odds. According to the American Cancer Society², the following are common factors that can increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer:
- Age, particularly being age 63 or older.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Having children after age 35.
- Never having a full-term pregnancy.
- Undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) or taking fertility drugs.
- Taking hormone therapy after menopause.
- A family history of cancer – particularly ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer.
- A BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation.
Another potential early risk factor is the presence of ovarian cysts. While plenty of cases of ovarian cysts aren’t cancerous, a very small number of certain cysts can turn out to be cancerous. If you experience any cancerous cysts, you’ll want to speak with your doctor about the potential risk of developing cancer.
Some of these risk factors, like smoking and weight, can be changed. And that can help you decrease your risk for ovarian cancer. But others can’t be changed – instead, it’s important to be aware of these risk factors so you can keep a close eye on your health.
Ovarian Cancer’s Early Symptoms Can Be Difficult to Detect
When ovarian cancer develops, it does cause changes within the body. But unfortunately, ovarian cancer doesn’t show obvious signs and symptoms early on.
The early symptoms of ovarian cancer are actually very, very subtle. If you do notice any changes, they can mimic the symptoms of other common illnesses – and Healthline notes that symptoms can even come and go, disappearing and making you think the problem is solved³.
Ovarian cancer’s earliest symptoms can be difficult to detect. If you’re worried about changes in your health, you’ll want to look for the following common symptoms⁴:
- Abdominal bloating
- Pressure and pain in the abdomen
- Feeling unusually full after eating
- Difficulty eating
- Increased urination
- Increased urge to urinate
As ovarian cancer progresses and grows, its symptoms can become more pronounced. This can result in the following common symptoms⁵:
- Indigestion and heartburn
- Back pain
- Irregularities in your menstrual cycle
- Painful intercourse
- If you’re exhibiting or noticing any of these symptoms, you need to contact your doctor. The only way to know for sure if what you’re experiencing is ovarian cancer is to get a diagnosis.
If your symptoms are ovarian cancer, early detection is the best plan of action. The earlier you can notice changes in your health and notify your doctor, the better your prognosis may be.
Have Ovarian Cancer? These Are the Common Treatment Options
Once you’re diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it’s time to take action. According to Healthline⁶, treating ovarian cancer is far easier if it’s caught early. But it isn’t an easy cancer to detect.
After undergoing testing and screening, your doctor will determine how much the cancer has progressed. From there, your treatment plan will be based on your cancer’s stage. Commonly, treating ovarian cancer includes multiple approaches, including⁷:
- Chemotherapy: Cancer cells are killed with strong drugs.
- Radiation: Cancer cells are killed using x-rays or similar forms of radiation.
- Surgery: Surgical removal of the cancerous tumor and any cancerous tissue. A hysterectomy is also a common surgery.
- Targeted therapy: These therapies include medications and other therapies that directly target cancerous cells, aiming to leave healthy cells healthy.
- Hormone therapy: Hormone-based medications and treatments eliminate cancerous cells.
Depending on your unique diagnosis, your doctor might recommend a combination of different approaches. Each case of ovarian cancer is unique, and treatments are targeted to your needs.
You can also consider alternative treatment options, which typically utilize holistic, natural methods to target the effects of cancer. If you do decide to pursue alternative treatment options, it’s important to check with your doctor first.
Be on the Lookout for the Early Signs of Ovarian Cancer
The first step in treating ovarian cancer is early detection. Catching ovarian cancer as early as possible will improve your odds and offer you a better plan for treatment and recovery.
However, ovarian cancer isn’t easy to detect. You must know its signs and symptoms in order to notice its potential presence. Make sure you know what ovarian cancer can look like. You’ll want to find a doctor and get a diagnosis if you think you could be at risk.