Ovarian cancer is a “silent killer”: it does not cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages

Ovarian cancer is the ninth most common cancer for women in the U.S., but it is also one of the deadliest. The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 22 thousand new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed this year (2014). More than 14 thousand women will die from this disease.

Ovarian cancer symptoms

Ovarian cancer is deadly because it is a “silent killer.” It does not cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. By the time a woman notices any of symptoms and goes to see her doctor; it is too late to successfully treat her.

Some symptoms are so common that women may not pay attention to them. These include bloating, weight loss, feeling full, constipation, frequent urination, fatigue and lower back pain.

Most people would write off these symptoms as the usual aches and pains of life. But it’s important for women to know what if such symptoms persist, it’s critical that they see their physician. Unfortunately, we cannot screen adequately for ovarian cancer or predict from the general population who may develop this disease.

Ovarian cancer risk

Some genetic tests and family history may help determine whether a woman is at higher than normal risk for ovarian cancer, but there is no guarantee.

Ovarian cancer awareness month offers the gynecologic oncology community the opportunity to raise awareness of symptoms, and to help women know their risk factors. Women who are at increased risk include those with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer or a personal history of breast cancer. Obesity, endometriosis and late pregnancy also may put women at risk.

And a woman’s risk increases simply as she gets older. Many women are not aware that there are specialists who treat gynecologic cancers such as ovarian cancer. It is important for women to seek a referral to a gynecologic oncologist who is familiar with this disease and treats these cancers on a regular basis. This is the physician who will perform surgery, prescribe chemotherapy, and lead the multidisciplinary cancer care team.  

Awareness efforts in New York City may lead to earlier diagnoses, appropriate referral and more positive outcomes for women with ovarian cancer.