Ovarian cancer is one of the most misdiagnosed diseases because its symptoms are so similar to many benign conditions.
The time it takes to correctly diagnose ovarian cancer, from the time a woman first sees a doctor for her symptoms, has been well-documented to take up to a year or more.
Nature made a huge blunder when it designed ovarian cancer symptoms to mimic so many other more common and benign conditions – throwing doctors off track and fooling even the most health conscious patients.
“Ovarian cancer symptoms are extremely vague due to the ability of the tumor to develop undetected for so long,” says Mylaine Riobe, MD, founder of Riobe Institute of Integrative Medicine.
Dr. Riobe, who’s board certified in ob/gyn and integrative medicine, is the author of “The Answer to Cancer.”
“The ovaries are free-floating in the abdomen attached by a small ligament to the uterus.
“If a mass forms on the ovaries, this mass can grow to an enormous size before detection.
“When it finally grows large enough to cause symptoms, they will be vague and may cause bloating, fluid retention in the abdomen (called ascites), nausea, pelvic pressure, abnormal vaginal bleeding, constipation.
“Many other symptoms can have similar symptoms such as endometriosis, fibroids [uterine myomas], gastrointestinal conditions such as colitis, IBS, diverticulosis and benign ovarian cysts.”
What makes the situation more vexing is if the patient has only a few symptoms.
The fewer number of symptoms, the more differential diagnoses are possible — including that of ovarian cancer.
Additional Benign or Non-Malignant Diseases that Mimic Ovarian Cancer Symptoms
• Fallopian tube disease
• Chronic ectopic pregnancy
• Abscess or blood mass on an ovary
• Peritoneal disease (lining of stomach)
• Benign pancreatic cyst
• Pelvic inflammatory disease
• Urinary tract infection
Though some of the aforementioned conditions can produce symptoms that ovarian cancer will never cause — such as fever, chills and jaundice (yellow color to the skin) — sometimes these benign or non-malignant conditions may present with only a few symptoms – which just happen to be the same symptoms that ovarian cancer can cause, such as abdominal and back pain.
With so many diseases that mimic ovarian cancer in the symptom department, it’s no surprise that ovarian cancer is ranked high as one of the most misdiagnosed illnesses.
Dr. Riobe points out that “conventional blood work to screen for it (CA-125) is not very specific or sensitive.
“In other words, the test results can be abnormal for several other conditions such as those sited above (endometriosis, fibroids, gastrointestinal conditions); or conversely, the CA-125 may be normal in the presence of ovarian cancer.
“An ultrasound can assist in diagnosis if an ovarian mass is seen and has certain concerning characteristics.”
• Mass has a vascular supply (the ultrasound makes the mass “light up”)
• Mass has compartments (is “septated”)
• Mass is heterogeneous rather than homogenous
So what should a woman do if she’s having vague symptoms that can be caused by ovarian cancer but that she knows can also be caused by a host of benign conditions?
It’s simple: The first doctor you should see is a gynecologist. That’s what I did when I had sudden-onset, unexplained diarrhea.
The first instinct for many women is to run straight to the gastroenterologist when digestive-type symptoms arise.
But really, pass on the GI exam and head straight to the gynecologist for an external and internal pelvic exam and ultrasound exam. Rule out the worst possible scenario.
Turns out my diarrhea was being caused by microscopic colitis, a benign condition that can cause several symptoms that ovarian cancer can also cause: diarrhea, lower abdominal cramps, low back ache, upper leg ache and nausea.
Dr. Riobe has helped thousands of patients overcome difficult illnesses by addressing root causes, not just masking symptoms. She has over 15 years’ experience using integrative techniques to treat diverse patients.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.