Ovarian Cancer Signs, Symptoms and Diagnosis

Ovarian cancer signs are not specific and so it comes like a thief in the night, catching you unawares. I describe the signs that are generally acknowledged to be potential early symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Sometimes, though, the diagnosis can be the first time you know you might have ovarian cancer. So I also describe the diagnostic process and the tests that are used, including the ca 125 blood test and a more particular cancer test that is currently under-used (in my opinion).

The information here is, I hope, the most relevant information for you brought together from a range of medical sources. It will give you information on:

General ovarian cancer facts

The early ovarian cancer signs

How ovarian cancer is diagnosed

with links to further pages describing:

the ca 125 blood test for ovarian cancer

an alternative test that you can try at home

treatment options for ovarian cancer

General Ovarian Cancer Facts

As a man preparing this I feel that you may already know much of this section - the expression 'teaching granny to suck eggs' comes to mind - so with apologies to the better informed, but in case I can fill the odd gap in knowledge that will be helpful to others:

  • The ovaries are quite small, I have seen them described as the size of an almond, situated in the pelvic region either side of the uterus (womb) and are the egg producing part of a woman's reproductive system.
  • They also produce the female hormones oestrogen (estrogen (US spelling)) and progesterone.
  • The menopause is when the ovaries stop producing eggs and at the same time produce much lower levels of hormones.
  • Ovarian cancer can occur in women and girls of almost any age and either before or after the menopause, but occurs more often in older women (so ovarian cancer signs should not be ignored just because someone is young).
  • Growths on the ovaries can be benign (not harmful) tumours, cysts (fluid filled or solid) or cancerous tumours - so detecting a growth does not automatically mean cancer and further diagnosis is needed.
  • In women under 30 the majority of growths are just cysts.
  • The causes of ovarian cancer specifically (as against the cause of cancers generally) are still unknown, though some risk factors have been identified - but see Causes of Ovarian Cancer for more information on how the general causes of cancer apply to ovarian cancer.
  • Ovarian cancer (or non-cancerous tumours) can develop in:
    • the ovary's surface tissue (most common at around 75% of ovarian cancers and termed 'epithelial') and are most common after you have been through the menopause, typically aged 45 -70; or
    • in the surrounding, supporting tissue (called the 'stroma') (around 5-10% of cases), with a slightly younger typical age range of 40-60; or
    • in the germ-cells which form the eggs forming around 15% of cases; more worryingly this form occurs more in young women, even teenage girls; though with conventional treatment one of the sites I have researched reports 90% successful treatment, though sadly often leading to permanent infertility. There are, to my mind, two possible causes of the infertility: the fact that the cancer cells replace the healthy germ cells in the ovary (see ovarian cancer causes for an explanation of why this happens) and/or the destructive effect of conventional chemotherapy/surgery treatment itself (so see ovarian cancer treatments for all the treatment choices open to you).
  • The conventional prognosis, treatment and survival rate depends on the age and health of the woman and the stage of the disease (which is really to state the obvious!). Whether treating it conventionally or with B17 Metabolic Therapy, the earlier the cancer is found (and so has not spread) and the healthier you are the better the chances of successful treatment. There is, however, no routine screening test for ovarian cancer to try and find it early, but see my page on the ovarian cancer blood test ca 125 for further comment on this, including proposals that the UK National Health Service should start using this test more.
  • Benign tumours seem to be more self-contained and don't shed cells which can spread to other parts of the body as malignant tumours do. Benign tumours tend not to grow back once surgically removed.
The early ovarian cancer signs

As indicated above the early ovarian cancer signs do not stand out as anything unusual or apparently significant, but a number of American medical societies and cancer charities agreed in 2007 that there was enough case history to suggest the list below as potential early ovarian cancer signs (MedicineNet) (with my additional comments in italics). The UK 'version' of that site (WebMD) goes further and states that menstrual irregularity is the only early symptom as the following symptoms follow on when the cancer has developed further:

  • Bloating in the abdominal region - (called 'ascites') -
    • a build up of fluid that is simply not re-absorbed and has no route to 'escape' partly due to inadequate hydration and a salt/hydration imbalance^1
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain -
    • given the ovaries' location pelvic pain seems logical: the tumours could bring pressure against other adjacent organs (so this might only occur after the tumour has grown to some size); abdominal pain though is normally higher up, but is known to be caused at times by problems with organs around, but outside the abdomen 'proper' (called 'referred' pain). There are, however, plenty of other causes for either sort of pain, including simple muscular pain, making this ovarian cancer sign easy to dismiss.
  • Urgent or frequent urination -
    • again there are other causes here: pregnancy for one and urinary tract infections for another (hopefully you would know about the pregnancy by the time it is having this effect on your bladder!).
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full very quickly -
    • enlarged organs pressing against the intestines (such as a distended bladder) can have this effect, but at the same time large fibroids (benign, fibrous growths often around the Fallopian tubes) don't necessarily so it's probably not the size of a tumour creating the effect, however caused it's put forward as one of the points to watch out for.

Other possible ovarian cancer signs, not so clearly identified by the US organisations, include constipation, wind and/or diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, and pain with intercourse and (rarely) abnormal vaginal bleeding.

In all cases if the symptoms persist over a longer period of time than might be normal for other causes, such as simple muscle strain or constipation say, then you should begin to take heed and consider getting checked out.

If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer it is suggested that your general practitioner should rule ovarian cancer out before spending time investigating the less serious possible causes of the symptoms.

Take action, according to the John Hopkins Web site if symptoms last more than 2- 3 weeks (not the 1 - 2 years that my mother-in-law ('Mum') put up with or ignored a recurrent 'niggling pain' in her pelvic/lower abdominal region!).

Given the vagueness of these early ovarian cancer signs and symptoms there has to be further diagnosis.

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How ovarian cancer is diagnosed

Apart from a check up on your general health, the first checks are likely to be physical ones:

  • Feeling your abdomen for signs of fluid build up (ascites)
  • A pelvic examination, feeling the ovaries through the vaginal wall for lumps or other changes in shape and possibly a visual examination of the cervix;
  • Next, ultrasound can be used to get an image of the ovaries. This is using sound waves above our hearing range and using the echoes to build up a picture of the organs under investigation. This can be done externally from the 'outside' or, to get a better 'view', from inside the vagina (transvaginal ultrasound).

These examinations will tell whether there is a growth on the ovaries, but it won't tell you what that growth is - they are still just ovarian cancer signs, not a diagnosis. More tests are needed. Straightforward tests easily carried out at a general practitioner visit are:

  • Taking a sample of fluid from the abdominal region if you have ascites and getting it analysed in a laboratory to see if there are any ovarian cancer cells present.
  • Taking a sample of blood and testing it for ca 125. This is a potential indicator for ovarian cancer, but one-off measurements are not a good indicator as I explain in more detail here.

More invasive, but in orthodox circles considered the normal way to be certain in diagnosis, the typical next step (based on the blood tests and ultrasound) would be to carry out a biopsy. This is the cutting out of a small sample of tissue from the growth so that it can be examined by a pathologist who can determine if it is cancerous or benign. There are two possible surgical processes:

  • one is known as a laparotomy - the opening of the abdomen - to obtain a small sample of tissue and sometimes fluids; the extent of this surgery can vary;
  • Sometimes a laparoscopy is carried out instead - the use of a thin tube carrying a camera and light so the surgeon can visually examine the ovaries and surrounding areas and take the samples at the same time; all while keeping to a very small cut through the abdominal wall.

Caution

If the Theory of Cancer described on this web site is correct, so that it is the body's healing process gone awry that is the cause of cancer, then even the relatively minor surgery of taking a biopsy creates unwanted additional injury.

The use of the effective B17 Metabolic Therapy as discussed on this web-site is based on this theory and the dietary habits of cancer-free peoples and would indicate that you should not have this invasive technique carried out on your body because of the risk of increasing and/or spreading the cancer (if it is there).

Is there an alternative non-invasive way to determine the presence of cancer?

Yes! There is a urine test that can be used to determine if you have cancer!

The only limitations on its applicability at present are that the testing kits which are readily available on the market are designed to tell you about something different.

As the pharmaceutical industry led 'war' on cancer is concentrating on new chemotherapy drugs targeting 'different' cancers it has ignored this approach and, therefore, your doctors and the media, just following the latest industry research, are kept similarly unaware.

See my discussion about the testing kits for how this works and how you could contribute to improving the application of this method.

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Return to Ovarian Cancer Survivors from Ovarian Cancer Signs

Notes. 1 See F. Batmanghelidj MD and P. Day The Essential Guide to Water and Salt published by Credence Publications for a discussion of how increasing water intake with balanced natural salt can reduce water retention and bloating, however do not ignore the signs.