Ovarian Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis

Silver awareness ribbonOvarian cancer produces very subtle symptoms, and so can go undiagnosed until it has spread to other organs. You need to know what symptoms to watch for, and which tests to have to detect ovarian cancer before it’s too late.


Ovarian cancer has several symptoms that could be caused by other conditions. But if these symptoms are new for you, occur frequently, and last for weeks, it’s imperative that you speak to your doctor immediately. Watch for these clues:

1. Abdominal bloating is one of the symptoms to be aware of, especially if it’s persistent, and you have no known allergies to the foods you usually eat

2. Pain in the pelvic or abdominal areas

3. Feeling full quickly after eating

4. A sense of urinary urgency, and having to go frequently

5. Fatigue

6. Changes in bowel habits

Risk factors

1. Genes, family history, and ethnicity

A family history of breast, or ovarian cancer, increases your risk of ovarian cancer. Inherited mutations of the BRCA1or BRCA2 genes could increase your risk of ovarian cancer, and other cancers.

Ashkenazi Jewish women have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, as do women from North America and Europe. Some groups of French Canadians could have an increased risk.

2. Age

Although the risk of ovarian cancer increases with age, it can happen to women of all ages.

3. Reproductive history, use of contraceptive pills, and hormone replacement therapy

If a woman has never been pregnant, she has a higher risk of the cancer. Women who have used birth control pills have a reduced risk of ovarian cancer, but an increased risk of breast cancer and other serious side effects. Hormone replacement therapy increases the risk of ovarian cancer.

4. Nutrition and obesity

Being obese increases your risk Consumption of green leafy vegetables is linked to a reduced risk of the cancer, as is regularly drinking green, black, and/or oolong tae. But tea, especially green tea, lowers folate levels, so tea should be avoided by pregnant women.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Cancer, shows that omega-3 fats have a protective effect against ovarian cancer, and trans fats increase the risk.

5. Environmental

The use of talc could moderately increase your risk of ovarian cancer.


Your doctor has many ways to detect ovarian cancer. It’s important to discuss your symptoms, and family history, in detail with your doctor.

Physical examinations

Your doctor will perform a complete pelvic exam, including feeling your abdomen, to check for possible masses. A pelvic ultrasound might also be used to improve the diagnosis. Your doctor will decide if a biopsy of your ovaries is required.

Blood tests

A test that measures Cancer Antigen 125, CA125, isn’t accurate in diagnosing ovarian cancer. Diagnosis is improved by combining it with other blood tests.

Human epididymis protein 4, (HE4), is a protein that’s over-expressed by ovarian cancer cells, but not in normal ovaries. Measuring it could lead to better early detection of ovarian cancer. Recent research shows that combining this test with CA125 improves diagnosis of the disease.

A HE4 test by itself could better diagnose ovarian cancer, especially in premenopausal women, than could the CA125 test. A recent study shows that serum HE4 levels are significantly higher in patients with ovarian cancer, as compared to those who have benign tumors, or who are healthy. Thus, testing this protein could provide useful clinical information.

It’s important to go to your doctor as soon as you have symptoms of ovarian cancer. Not having a family history of the disease will not protect you from it. Make sure you have a yearly physical examination, and ask your doctor if you need an ultrasound, and blood tests. It’s critical to detect ovarian cancer as soon as possible.