NATIONAL (NBC) - Experts say they may have a new weapon in the fight against ovarian cancer. There's still no sign of a cure, but for the first time women and their doctors now have some guidelines on possible early symptoms.
And while the symptoms are common ones, they could be the most effective warning yet.
Ovarian cancer - for years it's been called the silent killer, but now cancer experts say they've identified a list of symptoms that may give women and their doctors a head-start on catching the disease before it's too late.
Symptoms may include bloating, pelvic pain, difficulty eating, or a frequent need to urinate. Dr. Barbara Goff of the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation says, "These are very common symptoms. We all have them, but if you have any on list and they persist and they're something new for you, that is something you should bring to your doctor's attention."
Carol Cherry of Fox Chase Cancer Center says, "Chances are that most times when women experience these, it's not going to be ovarian cancer. And that's a very important point."
Ovarian cancer is fairly rare - affecting about 20,000 women a year in the United States, compared to breast cancer, which touches ten times as many.
But ovarian cancer is often deadly because it's rarely diagnosed before it spreads. Dr. Goff says, "When ovarian cancer is diagnosed early, the cure rate is 70 to 90 percent."
Unfortunately, a test for ovarian cancer remains elusive. But experts say knowing what to watch for now could help save lives. Cherry says, "The good news is we can empower women themselves to actually just know this information. They listen to their bodies and they can do something about it."
Cancer experts say 15,000 women die of ovarian cancer every year. They're hoping this symptom list will give future victims a fighting chance.
It should be noted that women with one or more of the symptoms are more likely to have irritable bowel syndrome than ovarian cancer. Also, there are no highly accurate tests to clearly confirm ovarian cancer in women who have the symptoms.