Symptoms of endometriosis and ovarian cancer

Christina S. Chu, MD
Last Modified: August 25, 2002

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
I have been researching both endometriosis and ovarian cancer. They seem like they have the same symptoms. How can you detect the difference and also do the symptoms on both appear around your cycle only? 

Answer

Christina S. Chu, MD, Assistant Professor of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, responds:

You are right that endometriosis and ovarian cancer can share some of the same symptoms. Endometriosis can cause pain, painful periods, infertility, painful intercourse, and painful bowel movements and urination. Early ovarian cancer is usually without symptoms, but more advanced cancer can cause bloating, pain, fullness, changes in eating and bowel habits. While most (but not all) epithelial ovarian cancer occurs in postmenopausal women, endometriosis should go away after the menopause. Chances are that young women have endometriosis and not ovarian cancer. Some patients with endometriosis only have symptoms around their period, but some women have the symptoms all the time. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should discuss them with your doctor. He or she should perform a physical examination and discuss your symptoms carefully with you. An ultrasound may help to examine your ovaries and look for cysts or other abnormalities. Remember that many other things that have nothing to do with endometriosis or ovarian cancer (such as irritable bowel) can cause some of these same symptoms.