Ominous and terrifying, the ‘C’ word is enough to make anyone hold their breath. Even so, cancer is a predominant experience many can expect to have within their lifetime—whether watching a loved one go through treatment or enduring a diagnosis themselves. Even so, there are some cancers that receive more attention and funding than others. Specifically when we discuss common female cancers, breast cancer is one that raises awareness through pink-everything, while ovarian cancer isn’t as commonly discussed. It should be though, especially if you ask leading health professionals who warn women of this dangerous—and sometimes life-threatening—cancer.
It’s estimated that more than 22,530 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and an astounding 13,980 women lose their battles. Internist Dr. Seema Sarin says while this type of cancer has been steadily declining for two decades, it is still the number one most common cancer of the female reproductive system, and one in 78 women will suffer.
As with most cancers, early detection is the key to a healthy recovery, since Dr. Sarin says studies indicate a 90 percent survival rate if the disease is diagnosed while it’s only in the ovaries. So how can you protect yourself—and be proactive about the signals your body may be sending you? By paying attention to minute and even seemingly-insignificant changes. “The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague and related to other conditions, which means a lot of women avoid going to a doctor and wait too long,” Dr. Sarin warns.
However, there are a handful of early detection symptoms of ovarian cancer that could give you an all-too-important head’s up. Here, a few to be mindful of:
You’re always bloated.
There are times when bloating is 100 percent normal. Right before your period, when you chow down on a carb-heavy dish, or even when you overdose on fiber-rich vegetables. Women are hyper-aware of fluctuations in their body, so you will likely notice a difference between an expected bloat and one that won’t go away. Dr. Sarin says the majority of females who can’t seem to shake a bloat will alter their diet, believing that dairy or gluten are the culprits. However, there is some evidence to suggest it’s actually an early sign of ovarian cancer. It could be your body’s way of raising your attention, as your ovaries grow larger thanks to a cyst or inflammation.
“Even though it is more likely the issue has an underlying cause besides cancer, it never hurts to get checked out just in case, especially women who are at risk,” she explains.
You are using the bathroom all the time.
As you blow out more birthday candles and take yet another adventure-filled lap around the sun, your age brings you wisdom. Clarity. Peace. And unfortunately, some less than pleasant health issues. Dr. Sarin says one common ailment in older women is incontinence since their pelvic floor muscles weaken and their bladder becomes more sensitive. This makes it difficult to know when it’s time to hit the toilet, causing an uptick in your visits and an anxiety-ridden sense of urgency. If you’re past 50 and just accept this shift in your routine, Dr. Sarin urges females to look closer.
“Changes in the size and shape of the ovaries can put undue stress on the bladder, which can make you feel like you have to “go” frequently or like you have little control over your bladder when the feeling hits. But, this can also be a sign of advanced-stage ovarian cancer,” she explains. If you’re in doubt, visit a medical professional you trust ASAP.
You have a poor appetite.
If you ask your partner to describe your eating habits, he or she would be quick to brag on your robust appetite. And perhaps, even remind your pals how important it is to feed you before you experience major hanger. Generally speaking, healthy people have healthy appetites, according to Dr. Sarin. So when you are experiencing any kind of sickness or disease, you may see a change in how often you eat, and how long it takes you to feel satisfied.
“What many women don’t know is a sudden change in how much food you can eat before feeling full could be relative to ovarian cancer,” Dr. Sarin continues. If you can’t be bothered to finish any of your meals, never feel the urge to snack, and everything feels, well, bland to you—it’s time to seek professional attention. Though it could just mean you have a hormone deficiency, it’s worth a check-up to reassure your worries.
You are constipated.
Our gut is a beacon that illuminates our overall state of health. Because it’s directly connected to our immune system and works to regulate our metabolism, having regular bowel movements is a shining sign that your body is on the right path. However, when you’re suddenly constipated and nothing seems to help, Dr. Sarin says it could be an early sign of ovarian cancer.
“Typically, this symptom comes from the same thing that urinary changes come from: changes in the ovaries due to tumor growth,” she explains. Normal constipation only lasts a few days, and at most a week, so past this point, an expert opinion is your best option.