Ovarian cancer is known as “The Silent Killer” because often symptoms are not detected until the cancer has spread, making it more difficult to diagnose. Women should be aware of the signs, symptoms and risk factors of ovarian cancer.
The ovaries are hidden away inside the pelvis among other organs and fatty deposits. Thus, cancer in the ovary can grow quite large and spread before it starts to trigger symptoms. When symptoms do arise they are easily mistaken for other less serious ailments. This can delay diagnosis, which can worsen the odds of survival.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota set out to find what the most common signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. They reviewed medical records of 107 women diagnosed with the disease during a 12-year period ending in 1997.
The most common complaint – noted by 22 percent of the women – was feeling abdominal cramps that lasted longer than two weeks and weren’t associated with diarrhea or vomiting. The second most common symptom – occurring in 18 percent of women – was urinary symptoms such as incontinence that grew increasingly worse during a two- or three-week period. The third most common sign – noted in about a quarter of the women – were gynecological symptoms such as irregular vaginal bleeding.
Less common symptoms included gastrointestinal symptoms such as heartburn, nausea and bloating; changes in bowel habits such as constipation and diarrhea; tiredness and loss of appetite; and unexplained weight loss or weight gain.
Risk factors for ovarian cancer include being older than the age of 40, having had few or no pregnancies, never taking birth control pills, having endometriosis, and having a history of cancer in the family – especially ovarian, bowel, breast or uterine cancer.
Other risk factors include use of synthetic hormones, such as those in menopausal treatments, fertility treatments and intrauterine devices. Also, women who use baby powder in the genital area for personal hygiene are at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. The powder can travel up the uterus and into the ovaries, triggering the growth of cancerous cells.
Several women have filed lawsuits against consumer health care giant Johnson & Johnson alleging the company knew that use of its talc-containing products, such as Shower to Shower body powder, on the genitals could increase their risk of ovarian cancer but failed to warn consumers of this risk.