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The Five Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Category: Patient Stories
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Woman Speaking with Her DoctorSymptoms of Ovarian Cancer
According to Basem Goueli, MD, PhD, director of St. Luke’s Regional Cancer Center, "Symptoms suggestive of ovarian cancer include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary symptoms, such as urgency and frequency." If you are newly experiencing these symptoms, and they are persistent (e.g., evident more than 12 days in a month), you are strongly encouraged to see your doctor.

Early detection is key
Listening to your body is important. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, the sooner you can get diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome. Dr. Goueli states, “If there is a golden rule in cancer care, it's that early detection generally translates into improved patient outcomes, regardless of the tumor type. In ovarian cancer, patients with stage I disease have a significantly better prognosis than patients with more advanced disease."

Genetic testing
Along with the symptoms, there are hereditary factors that can strongly predispose patients to developing ovarian cancer. Mutations in the tumor suppressor genes, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, and patients with Lynch syndrome (hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer) are at substantially increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. In addition, patients with a strong family history of ovarian cancer are increasingly predisposed to getting ovarian cancer. These women, which constitute approximately 5 percent of all patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer, should talk to their doctor about their risk of ovarian cancer, and be managed accordingly. Notable celebrities with BRCA mutations include Christina Applegate and Angelina Jolie. The National Cancer Institute has an informative fact sheet that talks about BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, and the impact mutations in these genes have on a patient's cancer risk. Dr Goueli states, “We consider numerous factors in determining when to test patients for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. A good rule of thumb for patients is that they should speak to their doctor if they have a personal or family history of breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer."

Resources to learn more about ovarian cancer
An excellent resource in Minnesota is the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance (MOCA). MOCA has information about symptoms, coping with a diagnosis, living with ovarian cancer, and support groups and resources for patients, family and friends. MOCA also supports ovarian cancer research. Dr. Goueli also recommends the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. The site is free and requires setting up a user name and a password.

“You can see the expert guidelines for the treatment of ovarian cancer on this site. This is the same site oncologists use and your oncologist can help you interpret the information.” Use these resources and let other women know about them too, so they can become better aware of the five symptoms of ovarian cancer.