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Undetectable disease: How ovarian cancer goes unnoticed

Written By: Simone Sonnier, UT Physicians | Updated: September 8, 2023
Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

What you need to know to help protect yourself from an often undetectable disease.

Ovarian cancer — with ambiguous warning signs, it’s no wonder it holds the rank of the leading cause of female reproductive system cancer-related death. With expert guidance and intuition, the disease can be easier to spot before it’s too late.

What are the warning signs?

Rosa A. Guerra, MD
Rosa A. Guerra, MD

“Symptoms of ovarian cancer are very vague and can easily be dismissed,” explained Rosa A. Guerra, MD, gynecologic oncologist with UT Physicians. “Which explains why sometimes it can go undetected until its later stages.”

If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, be sure to let your OB-GYN know. While they may not be an indicator of ovarian cancer, it’s always best to keep track of changes in your body.

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Constipation or other changes in bowel habits
  • Abnormal uterine bleeding
  • Weight changes

Who is at high risk?

Although ovarian cancer can affect anyone, certain genetic and lifestyle factors do play a role in a person’s overall chances of developing the disease.

“Patients who have a strong family history of ovarian cancer may carry a genetic mutation that puts them at an increased risk,” shared Guerra, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

Additional risk factors include:

  • Older age (63 years old and greater)
  • Never having children
  • Obesity
  • Endometriosis

How is it diagnosed?

Unfortunately, screening for ovarian cancer is not as straightforward as tests for breast or cervical cancer are. Guerra stresses the need for routine pelvic exams with an OB-GYN and vocalizing any new or worrisome symptoms.

A diagnosis can be confirmed through tissue diagnosis via surgery. Treatment depends on the stage upon discovery and includes surgery and/or chemotherapy.

“Our experts are here to not only help, but to listen to your concerns about your body,” said Guerra. “Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment if you feel like something isn’t quite right.”

For more information on UT Physicians Women’s Centers or to schedule an appointment, call 832-325-7131 or request one online. To learn more about ovarian cancer, visit our medical conditions glossary.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.