Know the early, subtle signs of ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer can be a relatively subtle killer, experts say.

No screening test exists, so only 15 to 20 percent of ovarian cancer cases are detected early. So it helps for women to know the initial internal clues that something more serious might be going on inside them, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services advises.

“Symptom awareness can be lifesaving,” said Dr. Eden Wells, MDHHS chief medical executive. “Women need to know their bodies and know the symptoms of this deadly disease.”

So this September, the focus of National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is on the four main warning signs:

— significant bloating;

— pelvic and abdominal pain;

— difficulty eating or feeling full quickly;

— urinary symptoms, such as feelings of frequency or urgency.

If any of these symptoms are new and unusual and occur at least 12 times in one month, authorities recommend seeing a doctor, preferably a gynecologist. Experts say 90 percent of women with ovarian cancer report these symptoms, even at the early stages.

Several factors also may increase the risk of ovarian cancer:

— Personal or family history of ovarian, breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer. About 20 percent of ovarian cancer is hereditary. Any female who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer should be referred to a genetic counselor;

— Increased number of menstrual cycles in a lifetime;

— Infertility, regardless of whether or not fertility drugs were used;

— Use of hormone replacement therapy;

— Increasing age, although ovarian cancer affects all ages and all ethnic groups;

— Obesity, like many health conditions, can contribute to one’s risk of ovarian cancer.

Behaviors that may decrease the risk of ovarian cancer include: use of oral contraceptives such as birth control pills, surgical removal of fallopian tubes or ovaries and breastfeeding.

The United States will see an estimated 22,240 new cases of ovarian cancer in 2018, with the disease claiming 14,070 lives. In Michigan alone, an estimated 750 new cases will be diagnosed and 500 women will die from ovarian cancer this year.

For more information about ovarian cancer, go to or the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition website at