Is It Ovarian Cancer or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

When ovarian tumors are diagnosed early, the odds of survival are good. Indeed, when the most common type of ovarian cancer is diagnosed before it has spread, or metastasized, five-year survival rates (a measure often considered indicative of a cure) are above 90 percent, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The rub: Only 20 percent of ovarian cancers are discovered at an early stage, according to the ACS, because ovarian tumors are very difficult to detect.

One of the main reasons that early detection of ovarian cancer is so difficult is that we don’t have efficient screening tools for it, as we do for breast cancer, and its signs and symptoms are usually vague and nonspecific, says Marilyn Huang, MD, the director of gynecologic oncology at UVA Health in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Some of these signs — such as abdominal bloating, indigestion, nausea, and changes in bowel movements — overlap with and are often confused with the symptoms of a very common gastrointestinal problem: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

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