IBS or Not? Beware Sudden Onset of Bloating & Pain
Research into ovarian cancer has revealed that symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, and a change in bowel habits are common in the months preceding a diagnosis. Most of these symptoms are present in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and confusion regarding the source of these symptoms might lead to a delayed diagnosis of ovarian cancer. This delay of diagnosis could have a significant impact on ovarian cancer survival.
Ovarian cancer is generally thought of as a silent disease because it doesn’t cause severe symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage. It seems that earlier warning signs are actually present.
Data for 1,985 women with ovarian cancer, 10,941 with breast cancer, and 6,024 “control” subjects without cancer were included in the analysis, reported in the medical journal Cancer. Abdominal swelling and pain were significantly more common six months prior to diagnosis in the women with ovarian cancer than among women in the non-cancer and breast cancer groups. One to three months before diagnosis, gastrointestinal symptoms and pelvic pain were also more common among women diagnosed with ovarian cancer than among women in the two control groups.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer tend to mimic those of other conditions, including digestive disorders, and it’s not unusual for a woman with ovarian cancer to be diagnosed with another condition before finally learning she has cancer. The key seems to be persistent or worsening signs and symptoms.
An important distinction for IBS patients is:
- With a digestive disorder, the symptoms tend to come and go, or they occur in certain situations or after eating certain foods. IBS does not lead to cancer.
- With ovarian cancer, there's typically little fluctuation and signs and symptoms are constant and will gradually worsen. These symptoms are not IBS.
The researchers suggest that an ovarian cancer diagnosis might be made earlier in some patients, if attention is paid to the nature of the symptoms that overlap with other diseases.
First published in The Inside Tract® Newsletter Issue 152 November/December 2005