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Half of women are missing this telltale sign of ovarian cancer, study finds

Rachel Grumman Bender
Beauty and Style Editor

Women are more likely to blame their eating habits when they’re constantly bloated rather than get it checked out by a doctor, even though that’s a major sign of ovarian cancer, according to a new U.K. study conducted by Target Ovarian Cancer.

The study found that, when faced with persistent bloating, 50 percent of women would change their diet, such as by eating more probiotic-rich yogurt and cutting out gluten, while only a little more than one-third of women would be concerned enough to see a physician.

Target Ovarian Cancer’s previous research also showed that only one in five women can identify persistent bloating as an ovarian cancer symptom, what the organization calls “an alarmingly low rate of awareness.”

Bloating that doesn’t go away should get checked out by your doctor. (Photo: Getty Images)

Ovarian cancer — which ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS) — is notoriously hard to detect early for several reasons. “The signs and symptoms are nonspecific and can be easily written off,” Stephanie V. Blank, MD, professor of gynecologic oncology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in NYC, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Ovarian cancer does not usually cause noticeable symptoms until it has spread, and there is no effective screening test for ovarian cancer.”

In fact, because the signs of the disease are often more subtle, only about 19 percent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed in the early stages, according to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC). “Symptoms typically occur in advanced stages when tumor growth creates pressure on the bladder and rectum and fluid begins to form,” notes the organization.

That is why it’s important not to brush off issues, like bloating, that don’t seem to go away. As the NOCC notes, “persistence of symptoms is key.”

Along with bloating, other symptoms include pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and the need to urinate urgently or often, according to the NOCC.

Of course, being bloating doesn’t automatically mean you should worry about ovarian cancer. So how can people assess their own personal risk of developing the disease?

“The best way to determine if you are at an increased genetic risk of cancer is to know your family history and discuss it with your doctor,” says Blank. Certain factors, such as age (half of all ovarian cancers are found in women 63 years of age or older, according to the ACS) and having a family history of ovarian, breast, or colon cancer can up your own risk, while other factors — such as carrying a pregnancy to term before age 26 and being on oral contraceptives — help lower your ovarian cancer risk.

“If you are found to be at increased genetic risk of cancer, you can take measures to prevent cancer and save your own life,” says Blank. “That said, the majority of women who develop ovarian cancer will not have a family history of cancer. So not having cancer in the family does not mean you will not get ovarian cancer.”

All the more reason to keep an eye out for persistent signs.

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