The Silent Killer

It's never easy to receive a diagnosis of cancer, but hearing the words "ovarian cancer" may be scarier than finding out you have other types of cancer, even if you know deep down your heightened fear has no logical basis. Perhaps your feelings of fright come from the fact that ovarian cancer used to be called the "silent killer," since symptoms during the earliest stages of the disease were not noticeable.

But you can stop planning your funeral. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that survival rates for ovarian cancer have improved to the point where almost 93% of those struck by the disease will recover. That's as long as ovarian cancer is caught in its early stage. But only 20% of these cancers are discovered in time to keep them from metastasizing or spreading to other parts of the body.

One issue that makes the early identification of ovarian cancer so difficult is that the symptoms aren't specific enough to distinguish them from symptoms of say, a stomach ache or a urinary tract infection, for instance. Because of this problem, a woman may receive the wrong diagnosis and treatment. By the time she realizes, "Hey, this just isn't working," the cancer may have progressed beyond the early stage when treatment can still be effective. Doctors have misdiagnosed ovarian cancer as stress, depression, or even irritable bowel syndrome.

Persistent Symptoms

The warning light that goes on for your physician comes in the form of the patient's persistent symptoms that worsen as time goes on. In irritable bowel syndrome, for instance, your doctor would expect to see the symptoms wax and wane, worsening according to changes in diet or from stressful situations. But in ovarian cancer, the symptoms don't come and go; they linger on and on and becoming more and more severe as time elapses.

One research study found that women with ovarian cancer tend to have the following symptoms:

*Urinary urgency

*Pelvic pain

*Bloating, a feeling of fullness, swelling, and abdominal pressure

Some other symptoms that have been linked to ovarian cancer include:

*A constant state of indigestion, gas or nausea

*Constipation or other changes in bowel movements

*Changes in urination, such as more frequent urination

*Loss of appetite, becoming full quite fast

*An actual increase in abdominal width—clothes are tight at the waistline

*Pain during sex

*Lack of energy that is persistent

*Low back pain

*Changes in menstruation

Be Firm

If you've felt pain or perhaps pressure or a feeling of fullness in the pelvis or abdomen that has persisted beyond three weeks, it's time to call your doctor. If you are diagnosed with something else but don't experience improvement as a result of the prescribed treatment, press for a new appointment with your doctor or see someone else. Be firm but polite and make sure you are given a pelvic examination.

If female cancers like breast or ovarian cancer are in your family, be proactive and find a doctor who has a good reputation for finding and treating these types of cancers. That way, you can get good advice now, while you're healthy, about things like genetic testing, screening, and prophylactic treatment options.

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