The symptoms of ovarian cancer are subtle and easy to miss, which is why it often progresses to stage 3 or 4 before discovery. Any one of these symptoms alone would not sound the alarm, but if you are experiencing three or four of them, make an appointment with your gynecologist to be checked out. I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice, but advice based on my own personal experience and research.
I visit my gynecologist yearly for routine check-ups, and in fact was there in March, 2009. Upon examination, all seemed well and the doctor detected no problems. After going through a series of other doctors and tests to determine the cause of my heartburn, I was diagnosed in September with ovarian cancer and the tumor on my ovary was the size of a brick.
A specific blood test would have revealed what an exam did not. If you are concerned, ask for a CA125 blood test. The CA125 is the marker for ovarian cancer and your number should be under 20. This blood test is not routine and depending on your insurance, you may have to pay for it out of pocket.
But it could save your life.
Symptom 1: LOSS OF APPETITE
Food will become uninteresting, and nothing is appealing. It’s not like being pregnant and smells make you nauseous, it’s more you just aren’t interested. I had to force myself to eat, and even then I could only eat certain things, like a BLT or turkey sandwich. I wasn’t even tempted by desserts or ice cream at the beach.
Symptom 2: INDIGESTION
Here’s the tricky part. My indigestion was so bad I thought that was why I was giving up eating. It made sense to me. I went to a gastrointestinal doctor to get an upper scope and he put me on Nexium. He did say my esophagus looked good, but I had terrible indigestion!
Symptom 3: BLOATING
Many women with ovarian cancer experience bloating and being gassy. That doesn’t stand out in my mind, but once again, I probably would have attributed it to acid reflux. I do remember standing sideways in front of the mirror and noticing that in spite of losing so much weight, my tummy protruded a little, and thinking how odd that was. Duh.
Symptom 4: FATIGUE
Now this one I had in spades. My husband and I used to walk about a mile each way on the beach to the end of the island, and suddenly when I got to the beach, I would look to the end and all I wanted to do was lie down in the sand. I just couldn’t do it. I’d go a little way then have to turn back. I can remember setting the table for company, and halfway through, bending at the waist to rest on the table. I was always exhausted. I’m a high energy person, so this was not a welcome change. I kept thinking I needed more exercise, so I signed up for a yoga class and halfway through the hour I was so tired I left. Yoga is far from exhausting!
Symptom 5: ABDOMINAL OR PELVIC PAIN
I did not experience this, but have talked to other ovarian cancer patients who have felt pelvic pain. I do remember once or twice as I was falling asleep at night, feeling something akin to electrical shocks darting across my abdomen. My eyes shot open and I waited for it to happen again. When it didn’t, I thought that was weird…
Symptom 6: CONSTIPATION
The tumor could be putting pressure on your bowels or bladder.
Symptom 7: FREQUENT URINATION
This could be for the same reason as constipation. I drink so much water every day and am constantly in the bathroom, this would never be on my radar.
Symptom 8: LOWER BACK PAIN
This was another biggie for me. I spend hours on my feet every day because I’m not generally a sitter. I’d stand in the kitchen, rub my lower back and pop Advil. It got to be every day. I just thought…I’m getting older, I guess the aches and pains will come. It was never more than throbbing lower backache, for me, but some women experience severe lower back pain.
Symptom 9: VAGINAL BLEEDING
This would be a neon light sign for me had this happened because I was through menopause and had no reason for vaginal bleeding. But, no bleeding, no neon light, no alarms sounding.
Symptom 10: PAINFUL SEX
This could be caused by pressure on the tumor during intercourse and you might have a feeling of extreme discomfort to shooting pains.
As you can see from this rather innocuous list, why they call ovarian cancer the silent killer…it sneaks up on you while you are enjoying life and going about business as usual. It never occurred to me this was a possibility because there is no history of female cancer in my family. I always kept up with my mammograms and yearly pap tests and have been healthy my whole life. You can read my story here of how I discovered I had ovarian cancer.
So hear this, ladies… or men who love their ladies… be proactive!! If you or your loved one have several of these symptoms for an extended period of time, make a doctor appointment pronto!! Don’t forget to ask for the CA125 blood test.
It could be the saving of you.