Many people mistakenly believe that a Pap smear test can detect ovarian cancer. In fact, there is no reliable routine screening test for ovarian cancer.
Women with a family history of the disease or other risk factors should talk to their doctor about genetic testing and other steps to monitor or help reduce their risk.
Routine gynecologic care and annual pelvic exams are recommended to follow up on early symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Early symptoms of ovarian cancer
In most cases, ovarian cancer isn’t diagnosed until it has progressed to an advanced stage. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, only about 20 percent of cases are diagnosed at an early stage.
Typically, this is because ovarian cancer symptoms either aren’t apparent in the early stages of the disease or they mimic common stomach and digestive issues that are often mistaken for minor ailments.
Women are more likely to experience symptoms once the disease has spread beyond the ovaries, typically to the lymph nodes outside the abdomen, the skin. the liver, the spleen, the fluid around the lungs, the intestines or the brain.
Symptoms caused by ovarian tumors may be confused with less serious, noncancerous conditions. If you experience persistent symptoms for more than a few weeks or notice a change in your ovarian health, consult a doctor for follow-up.
Common symptoms may include:
- Abdominal bloating, indigestion or nausea
- Changes in appetite, such as a loss of appetite or feeling full sooner
- Pressure in the pelvis or lower back
- A more frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation
- Changes in bowel movements
- Increased abdominal girth
- Tiredness or low energy
- Changes in menstruation
Ovarian cysts, masses or tumors
A pelvic mass may represent either benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) conditions. Symptoms of ovarian cysts, masses or tumors may include:
- Pelvic pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain shortly before or after the start of your period
- Pressure, swelling or pain in the abdomen
- A dull ache in the lower back and thighs
- Difficulty emptying your bladder
- Pain during sex
- Abnormal bleeding
See your doctor for an evaluation if you suspect you have a pelvic mass. During a physical exam, your doctor may be able to feel the mass.
He or she may then order an ultrasound to determine the size, shape, location, and composition of the lump before recommending what you should do next, which may include surveillance or surgery.