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News » Filed under: Diet/Exercise/Weight, Ovarian Cancer

Heed Early Warning Signs of Ovarian Cancer

Article date: September 1, 2009

 Historically, ovarian cancer has been called the "silent killer" because symptoms often become apparent only when the cancer has spread and is harder to treat.

However, recent medical studies show symptoms often do exist for ovarian cancer, even in its early stages. The most common include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary symptoms, such as the need to go urgently or frequently.

Trouble is, these symptoms are relatively common and associated with a number of different health problems, from irritable bowel syndrome to urinary tract infections. They are more likely to be due to other, less serious problems.

But if you have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks, report them to your health care professional right away.

When ovarian cancer is found early, while it is still confined to the ovary, about 93% of patients live longer than 5 years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, only about 20% of ovarian cancers are found at this early stage.

See a doctor if you have persistent symptoms like the ones described above, and get regular women’s health exams. While most early ovarian tumors are difficult for even the most skilled doctor to feel during a pelvic exam, an exam may help identify other cancers or gynecologic conditions. Women should discuss the need for these exams with their doctor.

In addition to paying attention to symptoms and getting regular exams, there are steps women can take to protect themselves from ovarian cancer:

  • Know your family history. About 10% to 15% of ovarian cancers result from an inherited genetic tendency to develop the disease. Have candid conversations with your relatives about the health problems that run in your family (especially breast, ovarian, and colon cancers), and discuss your family history with your doctor. You may need closer follow-up, depending on your situation. 
  • Eat a healthy diet to help control weight, since being very overweight (obese) may raise ovarian cancer risk. The American Cancer Society recommends eating a variety of healthful foods, with an emphasis on plant sources. Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, as well as several servings of whole grain foods from plant sources such as breads, cereals, grain products, rice, pasta, or beans. Limit the intake of red meat and processed meats. 
  • Get regular physical activity as another way to help control your weight. The American Cancer Society recommends 30 minutes a day, 5 or more days a week. Forty-five to 60 minutes a day is even better. 
  • Limit alcohol consumption to no more than 1 drink per day. Alcohol use is linked to an increased risk of a certain type of ovarian cancer. 
  • Don't smoke. Some studies have linked smoking to one type of ovarian cancer. Smoking also raises your risk of many other types of cancer, as well as other health problems. For help quitting, see our Guide to Quitting Smoking, or call 1-800-227-2345.

For more information, see Detailed Guide: Ovarian Cancer.

Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff

ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.


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