A woman’s body goes through some miraculous transitions in her lifetime: from beginning menstruation to pregnancy, giving birth, and breastfeeding to menopause.
Most of the time, we take these changes in stride. We know they are part of living a full and rich life. But sometimes we get the feeling that all is not well – that something’s not quite right.
Paying attention to warning signs your body gives you is a critical part of early cancer detection. And catching cancer in its beginning stages can significantly increase your chances of survival.
Cancer can impact people of any age and gender, but some cancers affect primarily women (like breast cancer) and others impact only women (like ovarian cancer). Let’s talk about recognizing possible early symptoms of these two forms of the disease.
Early Signs of Ovarian Cancer
Although it’s long been called a “silent killer,” ovarian cancer can present some early warning signs. Unfortunately, many women attribute these symptoms to something else, such as weight gain, stress, or aging.
As a result, more than 70% of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed when this disease has advanced beyond its early stages. These women typically have a poorer prognosis than those whose disease has been detected earlier.
Let’s look at the numbers.
About 85% of women survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis of early-stage ovarian cancer. Yet, the 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with advanced-stage ovarian cancer is closer to 35%.
What are the possible warning signs of ovarian cancer?
According to doctors, what should get your attention is when the following symptoms don’t go away after several weeks or if over-the-counter remedies do not alleviate the discomfort.1
- Bloating. Bloating is an uncomfortable feeling of fullness in your belly. Many women feel bloated as part of their monthly cycle or after eating certain foods. Still, persistent bloating every day for up to three weeks is not normal. You’ll also want to note any persistent distension, or visible swelling, in your abdominal area.
- Constipation. Defined as when someone has less than three bowel movements a week or has difficult bowel movements, constipation can have many underlying causes. But prolonged constipation and other changes in bowel habits that are not relieved by standard treatments can be a sign of ovarian cancer.
- Pain and pressure. New and persistent pain in the pelvis, lower back, or abdomen that you can’t attribute to other factors may be a cause for concern.
- Bladder problems. Urinary tract infections are not unusual in women, but some bladder-related issues can signal ovarian cancer. If the following symptoms last more than a few days, you should talk with your doctor:
- Pain or pressure in the bladder
- Frequent urination
- Sudden and urgent need to urinate
- Appetite changes. A loss of appetite or feeling full quickly after eating can be early symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Other early warning signs of ovarian cancer may include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pain during sex
- Back pain
- Stomach upset
- Irregular or heavier than usual menstrual bleeding
Experiencing these symptoms does not mean you have ovarian cancer. You know your body better than anyone else – so keep a close eye on how you’re feeling.
If your symptoms don’t go away within two-to-three weeks following routine interventions (rest, exercise, change in diet, or use of over-the-counter medications), report them to your doctor.2
Early Signs of Breast Cancer
One of the most common signs of breast cancer is a new lump (also called a mass) in the breast. Although most breast lumps are benign (not cancerous), it’s essential for women to know how their breasts normally look and feel.
Knowing what’s normal for you helps you to be aware of any changes.
Here are some other possible early warning signs of breast cancer:
- Change in size, shape, or appearance of a breast
- Swelling in all or part of the breast (with or without feeling a lump)
- Painful breast
- Nipple pain
- Redness or dimpling of the skin of the breast (like the skin of an orange)
- Newly retracted (turned inward) nipple
- Red, dry, flaking nipple or breast skin
- Discharge (other than breastmilk) from the nipple
- Swollen lymph nodes near the collar bone or armpit3
Additional signs can include fevers, night sweats or trouble regulating your temperature. You might also experience a sore throat, coughing, hoarseness, or difficulty swallowing. Don’t ignore any headaches or sudden vision problems.
Of course, other health issues can cause these symptoms, including benign breast conditions. Still, have any breast changes checked out by your doctor and report any of symptoms if they last longer than a few weeks.
Breast cancer survival rates have increased, and the number of deaths associated with breast cancer has been steadily declining – due in large part to earlier detection and a better understanding of the disease.4
At HALO Diagnostics, we offer breast screenings at our HALO Breast Care Center in Chico, Silicon Valley MRI in Silicon Valley, and Palms Imaging Center in Oxnard, as well as Precision Imaging Centers’ four locations in and around Jacksonville, Florida.
- Rush University System for Health. (2022). 5 early signs of ovarian cancer. Retrieved from https://www.rush.edu/news/5-early-signs-ovarian-cancer
- National Ovarian Cancer Foundation. (2022). What are the signs & symptoms of ovarian cancer? Retrieved from https://ovarian.org/about-ovarian-cancer/signs-and-symptoms/
- American Cancer Society. (2022). Breast cancer signs and symptoms. Published online January 14, 2022.
- Boughey, J.C. (2022). What is breast cancer? An expert explains. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/breast-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352470