About 20% of ovarian cancers are found at an early stage. Finding the cancer early improves the chances that it can be treated with success. About 9 out of 10 women treated for early ovarian cancer will live longer than 5 years after the cancer is found. Some large studies are in progress to learn how best to find ovarian cancer in its earliest stage.
Regular women's health exams: During a pelvic exam the doctor will feel the woman's organs to check their size and shape. But most ovarian tumors are hard to find early because the ovaries are deep within the body and the doctor cannot feel them easily. While the Pap test helps to find cervical cancer early, it is not really useful for finding ovarian cancer at an early stage.
See a doctor if you have symptoms: Early cancers of the ovaries tend to cause somewhat vague symptoms. These symptoms might include:
- swelling of the stomach (abdomen) or bloating caused by a build-up of fluid or a tumor
- pelvic pressure or stomach pain
- trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- having to urinate often or feeling like you have to go right away
Most of these symptoms can also be caused by problems other than cancer.
When these symptoms are caused by ovarian cancer, they tend to go on and are a change from normal -- for example, they happen more often or get worse. If you have symptoms that you can't explain nearly every day for more than a few weeks, talk to your doctor right away.
By the time ovarian cancer is thought of as a possible cause of these symptoms, it may already have spread beyond the ovaries. Also, some types of ovarian cancer can quickly spread to the surface of nearby organs. Still, dealing with symptoms right away can improve the odds of finding the cancer early and treating it with success.
Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include those listed below. But these symptoms are more likely to be caused by something other than ovarian cancer.
- upset stomach
- back pain
- pain during sex
- menstrual changes