Ovarian cancer warning signs

Ovarian cancer warning signs

In an essay to Lenny Letter, Cobie Smulders, most widely known for her role on How I Met Your Mother, shared details of her ovarian cancer diagnosis at the age of 25.

“Just when your ovaries should be brimming with youthful follicles, cancerous cells overtook mine,” she told the newsletter, “threatening to end my fertility and potentially my life.”

The mother of two, who is now 36, was trying to raise awareness of the cancer, which, while uncommon for younger women, still strikes some at a young age. About 90 percent of women who get this form of cancer are older than 40 years old, with the largest group age 60 and up, according to the CDC.

They estimate that each year, about 20,000 women get ovarian cancer, and almost 14,500 die from it.

“Historically, ovarian cancer has been called the silent killer,” says  Dr. Nikki Neubauer, a gynecological oncologist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. “However, we now know that many women have some common symptoms, so identifying these symptoms is crucial in helping catch the cancer at an earlier stage, which may result in improved survival.”

When caught early, about 94 percent of patients live longer than five years, according to The American Cancer Society. But in many cases, ovarian cancer isn’t diagnosed until later.

So what signs and symptoms should women be aware of when it comes to this deadly form of cancer?

Dr. Neubauer says common warning signs include:

  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Early satiety or feeling full quickly
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Constipation or other changes in bowel habits
  • Urinary urgency or other changes in urination habits

“I tell women I am concerned when they have symptoms that are new and persistent and don’t resolve with normal treatment options,” says Dr. Neubauer. “For example, when a woman goes to see her doctor about urinary urgency, they may give her antibiotics. If the urgency does not resolve itself with antibiotics, further investigation is required. In the end, women know their bodies best, so if you notice any of the above symptoms, you should bring them up with your physician.”

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  1. The ONLY symptom for my friend was to take the CA125 blood test. There were NO other signals and she would be gone today if she hadn’t taken that blood test that was recommended by another friend. Her score came back a little under 3000. There needs to be more attention given to that blood test.

  2. Speaking from a survivor perspective, I really appreciate this article. So much more awareness of symptoms needs to be communicated, not only to women but in the medical field in general. My PCP saved my life because she listened to my symptoms when I didn’t even realize my symptoms were significant. I was diagnosed early. I have heard too many women’s stories that they were treated for IBS before a CA125 test was done. These women were all finally diagnosed but at Stage 4 – too late for most. The more we can get Ovarian Cancer on the differential early, the more lives will be saved.

  3. My daughter now 37 had those symptoms at age 19. She was fortunately treated early at CCF and has two sons in spite of surgery to remove one ovary and chemo therapy. Great message to all women and the men who love them.

About the Author

Jackie Hughes
Jackie Hughes

Jacqueline Hughes is the manager, media relations at Advocate Aurora Health. Previously, she was the public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Jackie has 10 plus years experience working in television and media and most recently worked at NBC 5 in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, going to the movies and spending time with her family.