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Signs Of The 'Silent Killer'

Ovarian cancer is often called the "silent killer," because in many cases it's too late to stop it by the time it's discovered.

Now, a new study reveals some early warning signs for ovarian cancer that may be more obvious than previously thought.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains, ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest cancers in women, because it grows quietly. Symptoms don't appear until the later stages, when effective treatment is much more difficult.

This late detection results in a high fatality rate. Ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States. About 23,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year, with about 14,000 deaths annually.

Senay says survival rates for ovarian cancer go up dramatically with early diagnosis, but it's really not an easy disease to catch early on.

A new study in Journal of the American Medical Association shows that many women with ovarian cancer do experience a number of symptoms early on that could indicate its presence.

Senay explains some symptoms of ovarian cancer - especially if the symptoms are severe, frequent and occur at the same time – include: increased abdominal size or a bloated abdomen, pelvic pain and an urgent need to urinate.

Women in the study who had ovarian cancer were much more likely to have this cluster of pronounced symptoms.

The presence of these symptoms doesn't always mean that cancer is present. Some of the symptoms can be associated with menstruation or other benign conditions. And, in the study, other commonly reported symptoms such as back pain, constipation and fatigue were not associated with cancer.

Senay suggests women talk to their doctor about any symptoms that persist or become worse. But the researchers said that women who reported vague symptoms that were less severe and less frequent were less likely to have cancer as compared with women with ovarian cancer who reported more severe and multiple symptoms.

Your doctor is the best person to judge the significance of symptoms, but the study reinforces the importance of self-awareness and communication with your doctor as an important first line of defense against ovarian cancer.

There are tests being studied that hold the promise of being able to detect the early signs of ovarian cancer in the blood. One test was supposed to be available this year, but many experts feel that more research is needed before doctors can start relying on a blood test to rule it out.

If you have a family history ovarian or breast cancer, Senay explains, you should ask your doctor whether or not a genetic test to determine your risk is appropriate. Women at highest genetic risk can greatly reduce their risk of ovarian cancer by having their ovaries removed after their childbearing years.

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