Could It Be Ovarian Cancer? A 40-Year-Old Shares Several Subtle Signs Of The Sneaky Disease

Date June 21, 2018 14:28

Ovarian cancer: What is it and why is it so deadly?

Ovarian cancer takes the lives of more than 14,000 American women every year. Fewer than 50% of women with the disease live another 5 years after the diagnosis. That’s because cancer of the ovaries rarely produces easily recognizable symptoms in the beginning. If symptoms are present early, they are often non-specific.

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As the Mayo Clinic explains, early symptoms are often non-existent because the ovaries are very small (about the size of an almond), and they sit deep in the pelvis. A tumor usually has to grow quite large before it starts to cause symptoms.

READ ALSO: Women Share Their 6 Subtle Symptoms Of Deadly Ovarian Cancer To Detect The Disease Early On

Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include the following:

  • feeling bloated;
  • swelling in the abdomen;
  • feeling quickly full when eating;
  • pelvic discomfort;
  • urinating more often than usual;
  • changes in bowel habits, e.g. constipation.

Other symptoms may also be present:

  • indigestion and nausea;
  • abnormal vaginal bleeding;
  • pain during sex;
  • back pain;
  • weight loss;
  • persistent tiredness.

It’s not clear what causes ovarian cancer. But there are certain known risk factors, including inherited gene mutations, endometriosis, high BMI, and being on hormone replacement therapy.

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It may be difficult to catch ovarian cancer early. But a few tests may help with that; these include imaging tests, such as ultrasound and a blood test to measure the levels of CA125 protein.

READ ALSO: 5 Deadly Female Cancers: How To Recognize And Alarming Symptoms Women Shouldn't Ignore

Karen’s story: How she found out she had ovarian cancer

Dry, medical descriptions of ovarian cancer may not sound like something relatable, something that could happen to you. But if you learn about someone’s personal experience, that’s a different story.

Karen, a woman who was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 39 (at stage III), shared her story with the Ovarian Cancer Awareness Coalition.

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At first, she had no idea her symptoms could be caused by cancer.

It was the summer of 2000, the year I would be turning 40. My clothes were getting tight at the waistline, I was experiencing discomfort and indigestion after eating, and was falling asleep on the train ride home from work in the evenings. I thought middle-age was making itself felt for the first time. So I bought loose dresses instead of slacks, kept Tums and Rolaids at the ready, and learned to enjoy the snooze at the end of the work day. It wasn’t until I tried to dance with my 3-year-old daughter on the beach one July day that I realized something was wrong. My belly felt like a water balloon as I swayed to the music – unevenly weighted and shifting as I did.

As soon as Karen realized something was seriously wrong, she contacted her gynecologist:

I phoned my gynecologist, as I was due for an appointment anyway. They did a physical exam and ordered a complement of bloodwork. Days later, the doctor phoned to tell me my CA-125 counts were high – 275 vs. a normal count of 35 or lower – and asked me to come into the office immediately. An ultrasound revealed a tumor was growing in my abdomen. Surgery a week later confirmed the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. And the "water balloon" sensation I had in my swollen belly was attributed to 4 1⁄2 liters of ascites fluid that had built up because of the tumor.

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And then came the grueling treatment. Fortunately, it was successful:

Initial surgery was followed by 6 rounds of chemotherapy. Second-look surgery was combined with a hysterectomy and removal of my ovaries. This all ended just before my 40th birthday. Suddenly, 40 years felt like such a blessing!

Through the grace of God and the tireless efforts of the wonderful doctors and nurses who diagnosed and treated me, as well as the tremendous support of my family and friends, I am now marking the 5th anniversary of that diagnosis – with no evidence of recurrence.

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If you have any symptoms that might indicate ovarian cancer, see your gynecologist as soon as you can. The symptoms may be related to a benign condition, but it’s best to know for sure and get timely treatment for anything that's causing them.

Source: Ovarian Cancer Awareness Coalition, Mayo Clinic, NHS UK

READ ALSO: 5 Early Symptoms Of Ovarian Cancer And What Can Be Done To Prevent It

This article is solely for informational purposes. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for any harm that may result from using the information provided in the article.