January 6, 2021/Cancer Care & Prevention

5 Vague Cancer Signs You Should Never Ignore

Ovarian and cervical cancer can mimic other conditions

weighing self on scale

Ovarian and cervical cancers cause a host of different symptoms. Many are vague or similar to other conditions. There are several, however, that should send you straight to your gynecologist for a checkup.

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While they can mean many things besides cancer, they definitely need to be checked out, according to Ob/Gyn Mariam AlHilli, MD.

These include:

1. Vaginal bleeding after menopause

In most of cases, doctors identify a benign reason for post-menopausal bleeding. However, this type of bleeding is linked to endometrial cancer. More than 90% of women with endometrial cancer will have postmenopausal bleeding as the first sign. Any abnormal bleeding or post-menopausal bleeding should be evaluated. It could also be a sign of cervical cancer.

2. Abnormal vaginal bleeding before menopause

Any bleeding that is outside what’s normal for you should raise a red flag for either endometrial or cervical cancer.

“Bleeding that is heavier than your normal period or irregular is concerning in some cases and may need to be investigated,” says Dr. AlHilli. “You should also see your doctor about bleeding after intercourse or bleeding between your periods.”

3. Pelvic pain

Persistent abdominal pain and discomfort can also be a potential sign of ovarian cancer. Gas, indigestion, pressure, bloating and cramps can indicate ovarian cancer.

4. Unexpected weight loss/gain

For women with ovarian cancer, there are many reasons for weight gain. Tumor size is one factor, since tumors frequently go undiagnosed until they’re relatively large. Sometimes fluid builds up in the abdomen.

5. Appetite loss

With ovarian cancer, women sometimes lose their appetite. If you suddenly lose more than 10 pounds without changing your diet or increasing exercise, consult your doctor. In many cases, the lack of desire is a result of how the cancer impacts your metabolism.

Vague symptoms make diagnosis a challenge

“Overall, symptoms that indicate ovarian cancer are often difficult to diagnose,” says Dr. AlHilli.

For example, vague abdominal pain, upper abdominal discomfort or indigestion, nausea or vomiting, and constipation can also indicate a problem. Many symptoms are similar to those from other conditions.

To diagnose whether your symptoms are benign or cancerous, your doctor will likely perform a series of tests.

Here’s what you should know about possible tests:

  • Expect a pelvic exam.
  • An endometrial biopsy is also possible, as well as a Pap smear.
  • Depending on what those tests find, your doctor may order a CT scan for more detailed results.

“Many of these signs and symptoms are temporary and won’t amount to anything,” she says. “But it’s best to let your doctor examine you to make sure. Early treatment is critical for these types of cancer, so it’s dangerous to ignore the signs.”

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