Monday Medical: Ovarian Cancer and the Art of Medicine

Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecological cancer in women, the second deadliest gynecological cancer in women and the fifth leading cause of cancer death for all women.

However, there is no screening test for this.

“We have pap smears and mammograms to check for cervical cancer and breast cancer, but we don’t have a screening test for ovarian cancer,” said Jennifer Allen, a certified midwife at UCHealth women’s nursing clinics in Steamboat Springs and Craig. “There seems to be a backlog in general ovarian cancer education. Most diagnoses occur when the cancer has progressed to later stages where we can’t help as much. We can do better than that. ”

Below, Allen describes the symptoms of ovarian cancer, the importance of listening to your body, and how strong relationships with doctors can help women detect cancer early.


Ovarian cancer was known as the “silent killer,” and many women were not diagnosed until the cancer grew and spread to lymph nodes or other organs. This is probably because the symptoms of ovarian cancer are easy to ignore.

“It’s common for women to complain of bloating, indigestion or a feeling of fullness after eating, but it’s not often that they think there might be something medically related to these symptoms,” Allen said. “Instead, the symptoms are blamed on a recent meal, the need to urinate, or even too tight pants – all of which could be possible, but the symptoms may also signal ovarian cancer.”

Listen to your body

Allen encourages women to immediately share all the worrying symptoms with their doctor in the same way that women have learned to be open about breast lumps.

“Under certain conditions, service providers can take a ‘wake-up call’ approach, waiting until health begins to decline for a diagnosis or illness to be announced,” Allen said. “With ovarian cancer, once declared, it can be deadly. It is so important for women not only to listen to their bodies, but also to share these findings with their service providers. ”

Constipation and pain are signals to seek help

As the symptoms of ovarian cancer progress, women may have gastrointestinal problems, such as more constipation than diarrhea, and the pain may become more present.

“When you start to feel pain, it could be because of a carcinogenic mass that becomes so large that it starts to compress other parts of the body,” Allen said. “It tells you how big something has to be to bring a woman to the exam.”

Risk factors and screening methods

Screening for ovarian cancer is not indicated in low-risk, asymptomatic women. Women at higher risk may benefit from screening. They include women with a family history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer, those whose first long-term pregnancy was after age 35, those who did not give birth before term, and those who are taking hormone therapy after menopause.

“Transvaginal ultrasound and a blood test to look for a specific tumor marker are the best tools we have to check for ovarian cancer,” Allen said. “Pelvic examinations can also be done, but none of them are completely sufficient, which is why we still miss most of these cancer diagnoses until they reach stage three or higher.”

Build a relationship with your service provider

Because ovarian cancer is so difficult to detect, Allen relies on the art of medicine.

“The most successful diagnoses can come from a good relationship between the patient and the service provider,” she said. “It comes from the patient believing in herself and acknowledging what her body is experiencing and openly sharing it with her provider.”

Allen encourages patients to be transparent and honest when answering questions during medical history and evaluations. This includes not only the physical aspects of their lives, but also the psychosocial aspects.

“Knowing our entire patient, not just the physical patient in front of us, is an important part of health care,” Allen said.

If doctors detect ovarian cancer, patients will be referred quickly to a gynecological oncologist. As with all cancers, early detection leads to better outcomes.

“Our patients deserve access to and receiving personalized health care,” Allen said. “When we are able to develop trust and a relationship with our patients, their health is beneficial.”

Lindsey Reznicek is a communications strategist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. It can be reached at [email protected].

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