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Five Conditions That Mimic Ovarian Cancer

Five Conditions That Mimic Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is called a “silent killer” because it’s often diagnosed at later stages, but not for lack of symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms are bloating, pelvic or belly pain, loss of appetite or feeling full, and frequent urination (or feeling like you need to). But the problem is that these symptoms mimic symptoms of other conditions, leading to multiple doctor visits and a litany of tests trying to get to the root of the issue, and a possible diagnosis.

Let’s look at five conditions that can present with symptoms similar to ovarian cancer:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Both IBS and ovarian cancer can cause belly pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, but IBS can be triggered by food or stress. If these symptoms are new and persistent, see your doctor.

Ovarian cysts. Usually filled with fluid, ovarian cysts are often harmless, but can cause discomfort. Ovarian cancer, however, presents as a solid mass of cancer cells, despite the similarity in symptoms. The key difference is that with ovarian cysts, your symptoms typically come and go with your menstrual cycle.

Endometriosis or uterine fibroids. In addition to heavy periods and fertility issues, endometriosis commonly causes pelvic pain, pain during intercourse or urination, fatigue and bloating. And these symptoms usually get worse during your period. One difference in symptoms to note for uterine fibroids is long periods and back or leg pain.

Pelvic inflammatory disease. Caused by an infection, pelvic inflammatory disease commonly results in belly pain, difficult or painful peeing, and pain during sex. But, you’ll often notice other symptoms like vaginal discharge, abnormal bleeding, and a fever.

Urinary tract infections. UTIs are one of the most common bacterial infections in women, with more than half developing the infection in their lifetime. If symptoms present, your healthcare provider can easily test your urine to check for a UTI and treat with the appropriate antibiotics.

Only 20% of ovarian cancers are found at an early stage. When found early, though, about 94% of patients live longer than five years after diagnosis. A regular pelvic exam can find some female cancers at an early stage, but most early ovarian tumors are difficult or impossible to detect. Unlike a Pap test that screens for cervical cancer, there is not yet an effective screening for ovarian cancer.

If you develop new and persistent symptoms (for more than two weeks) similar to these, see your healthcare provider or gynecologist, and know that cancer should be considered as a possible cause during the discussion and evaluation.