Although occasional bloating is super common, says Douglas A. Levine, MD, director of gynecologic oncology at NYU's Perlmutter Cancer Center, persistent bloating sometimes can be a symptom of ovarian cancer. This spreads throughout the body in two-thirds of its patients before they're diagnosed and claims 11 lives every day, according to Target Ovarian Cancer, a UK-based ovarian cancer charity.
Although data on survival rates suggests the earlier you're diagnosed with ovarian cancer (i.e., stage 1), the more likely you are to beat it, only 34 percent of women say they'd contact a doctor about regular bloating, according to a recent survey conducted by the charity. Meanwhile, 50 percent of those surveyed said they'd try making dietary changes to relieve the condition before flagging the symptom to an MD—which could delay your diagnosis.
Bloating linked to ovarian cancer can feel similar to the run-of-the-mill distention that plagues you after OD-ing on a gaseous food like broccoli. But tweaking your diet won't relieve it. That's because the ovarian cancer symptom is unrelated to the food you eat, according to Dr. Levine: "When a pelvic mass begins to occupy the abdominal region or pelvic area, it triggers bloating," he says. "The mass can also secrete fluid that distends the belly."
When to Worry
Although an isolated, mild case of bloating typically doesn't warrant medical attention, you should contact your primary-care physician if it persists for more than two weeks or if it gets worse. You should also get in touch with your doctor if OTC medications, such as antacids or anti-gas pills, don't offer relief, or if your bloating is accompanied by additional symptoms such as sharp abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, frequent urination, or constipation, according to Dr. Levine.
Other signs of ovarian cancer can include fatigue, back pain, an upset stomach, pain during sex, menstrual changes, and abdominal swelling with weight loss, according to the American Cancer Society, which notes that these symptoms are more likely to be caused by other conditions.
"Everyone knows their own body," Dr. Levine says. "If your symptoms feel worse than normal, do something about it."
If your doctor is concerned by your symptoms, she may recommend a sonogram to check things out or suggest another solution to help you kiss uncomfortable bloating goodbye.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.