The Importance of Knowing the Signs of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer occurs when cells in or near the ovaries develop mutations in DNA, causing the cell to grow and multiply to the point that it develops into a tumor or mass of cancer cells. The type of ovarian cancer is determined by where the cancer begins. Ovarian cancer types include:

  • Epithelial ovarian cancer
  • Germ cell tumor
  • Stromal tumor

What causes ovarian cancer?

As with most cancers, the exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown. However, certain factors can increase your risk for ovarian cancer, such as:

  • Age – According to the American Cancer Society, half of all ovarian cancers are diagnosed in women 63 years of age or older, as most ovarian cancers develop after menopause.
  • Being overweight or obese – Being overweight or obese increases the risk for various types of cancer, including ovarian cancer. An abnormally high BMI has been associated with increasing the risk for mutations in DNA.
  • Genetic mutations – While rare, ovarian cancer may be caused by inherited genes that increase the risk for cell mutations and cancer development.
  • Endometriosis – Endometriosis has been associated with an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, particularly epithelial ovarian cancer.
  • Infertility – There is strong evidence that infertility can be a risk factor for ovarian cancer as it also relates to abnormal reproductive function and possible poor ovarian health.
  • Never having given birth – Research shows that the likelihood of developing ovarian cancer is reduced with each pregnancy.
  • Hormone replacement therapy – Hormone replacement therapy, particularly after menopause, such as estrogen-only and combined HRT, has been observed to increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Family history – Ovarian cancer can be caused by an inherited mutation in certain genes and can therefore run in the family. You have an increased risk for ovarian cancer if your direct relative, such as your mother, sister, or daughter, has or had ovarian cancer.

What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer? 

The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Frequent or urgent need to urinate
  • Feeling full quickly when eating

The following are less common symptoms of ovarian cancer:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Constipation
  • Acid reflux
  • Back pain
  • Menstrual irregularities

If the woman has ovarian cysts, masses, or tumors, other symptoms may include:

  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Difficulty emptying the bladder
  • Pain before or after menstruation
  • Dull ache in lower back and thighs
  • Abdominal pressure or swelling

See your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms for more than two weeks and if they are new or unusual for you.

Ovarian cancer doesn’t typically cause symptoms until it is in its advanced stages. In later stages of the disease, women also may experience gastrointestinal issues and digestive disorders that also cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. This explains why many women confuse their symptoms for other conditions and why it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis so you can begin treatment.

Treatments vary for gynecologic cancers, depending on the type of cancer and how far it has spread. A treatment plan may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, and often these treatments are combined.

Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology is dedicated to providing the best and most advanced radiation treatment options for women with gynecologic cancer, such as ovarian cancer, including external (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy or Image-Guided Radiation Therapy) and internal (Brachytherapy) radiation therapies, as well as CyberKnife® radiosurgery.