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Society of Gynecologic Nurse Oncologists

September is both Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month (GCAM) and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Working with the ovarian cancer advocacy community, including SGNO, the Foundation for Women's Cancer is helping to educate women about the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

A national consensus on ovarian cancer symptoms was announced in 2007. Formulated by the Foundation for Women's Cancer (FWC), the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists (SGO) and the American Cancer Society (ACS), the consensus statement has been endorsed by 38 gynecologic cancer advocacy organizations.

Historically, ovarian cancer was called the "silent killer" because symptoms were not thought to develop until the chance of cure was poor. However, recent studies have shown this term is untrue and that the following symptoms are much more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than women in the general population. These symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

Women with ovarian cancer report that symptoms are persistent and represent a change from normal for their bodies. The frequency and/or number of such symptoms are key factors in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Several studies show that even early stage ovarian cancer can produce these symptoms.

Women who have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks should see their doctor, preferably a gynecologist. Prompt medical evaluation may lead to detection at the earliest possible stage of the disease. Early stage diagnosis is associated with an improved prognosis.

Several other symptoms have been commonly reported by women with ovarian cancer. These symptoms include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities. However, these other symptoms are not as useful in identifying ovarian cancer because they are also found in equal frequency in women in the general population who do not have ovarian cancer.