Warning Signs Your Indigestion Is Actually Cancer

You know that feeling deep inside you when you eat like a 10-year-old, but your body reminds you that you're much older? It's that feeling of your stomach continually expanding after eating a heavy or junk-filled meal. Lying on the couch makes things worse, as you feel like all the acid from your food crawls up your esophagus. You moan as the burning sensation doesn't want to give in, and sometimes a belch brings a brief second of relief.

Indigestion or heartburn often results from eating too fast or too much, or eating too many greasy or acidic foods.Drinking too much coffee, alcohol, or carbonated drinks can also cause your stomach to revolt. Stress, smoking, and certain medications might also result in indigestion, but sometimes your indigestion might mean problems with your digestive system.

For instance, indigestion can also be an early warning sign of ovarian cancer, particularly if you experience indigestion more than 12 times a month, according to the American Cancer Society. Ovarian cancer also comes with other warning signs that might accompany indigestion.

Abdominal distension can be mistaken for bloating in ovarian cancer

Although ovarian cancer is sometimes referred to as a "silent killer," symptoms that often emerge are often attributed to age-related changes or gastrointestinal diseases, according to a 2008 article in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The problem often lies in articulating the symptoms, such as bloating. Women with ovarian cancer will often feel like their stomachs temporarily get larger, to the point where their clothes don't fit. This might feel like bloating, but you should be concerned about bloating when your abdominal area becomes distended. One woman said a size 20 skirt left red marks around her waist, even though she typically wore a size 14.

Bloating might be a typical occurrence, and the study found that 27.5% of women who didn't have ovarian cancer experienced bloating alone, compared to the 4.5% of women who did have ovarian cancer. However, 86% of women with ovarian cancer experienced abdominal distension along with their bloating. Less than half of the women without ovarian cancer experienced this abdominal expansion.

Persistent abdominal pain can be a sign of ovarian cancer

Abdominal pain might accompany indigestion, but pain during intercourse is another possible sign of ovarian cancer. A 28-year-old woman with ovarian cancer told Today that sex became "excruciating." According to the Moffitt Cancer Center, this pelvic pain during sex can result from an ovarian tumor pressing into your vagina. If your abdominal pain is constant, the cancer may have spread to your pelvis or abdomen.

In a 2020 study in Gynecologic Oncology that studied symptoms of 574 women with ovarian cancer, almost 40% of the women said they experienced pelvic pain. Just 2.3% of the women said they had no symptoms before receiving an ovarian cancer diagnosis. What might this abdominal pain feel like? A 2019 study in The Patient interviewed several women about their symptoms and how they affected their daily lives. One woman said her lower abdominal pain felt like someone was squeezing her pelvis with a clamp.

Ovarian cancer can change your bathroom habits

If you're feeling indigestion but also find yourself using the bathroom more often, you could be exhibiting more symptoms of ovarian cancer. The 2020 study in Gynecologic Oncology found that 20% of women with ovarian cancer experienced a change in their bowel habits, and 6.8% found themselves urinating more frequently. Diarrhea or constipation can occur every once in a while for all of us, but you might want to see a doctor if your poop habits change without an obvious cause like illness or a change in diet.

According to the American Cancer Society, the majority of ovarian cancer occurs in women after menopause, particularly after a woman reaches the age of 63. After menopause, the low levels of estrogen in the body can trigger more urges to pee, particularly at night. This common postmenopausal symptom can mask ovarian cancer. The Moffitt Cancer Center says that ovarian cancer can press into your bladder, making it feel like it's full.

Loss of appetite and weight loss could signal ovarian cancer

While indigestion can often come from overeating or eating foods that aren't part of your typical diet, feeling indigestion after a little bit of food or losing your appetite can be worrisome. In the 2008 study in BJOG, 40% of women who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer said they felt prematurely full during meals, compared to just under 9% of women without cancer. A similar number of women before they were diagnosed with ovarian cancer also said they had lost their appetite.

According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, ovarian cancer can cause fluid to develop in the abdomen, called ascites. These ascites can develop when the cancer reaches the lining of the abdomen, and fluid leaks out of the organs. Ascites can cause symptoms such as loss of appetite and indigestion, as well as exhaustion, back pain, and shortness of breath.

Your loss of appetite might cause you to lose weight, but sometimes ovarian cancer can cause unexplained weight loss. Virginia Oncology Associates says malignant tumors or your immune system could cause your metabolism to go into overdrive despite your food intake. A 5% reduction in weight without a change in your eating or movement patterns could point to ovarian cancer.

Know your risks for ovarian cancer

Even though signs like indigestion, changes in bathroom habits, or bloating might be common, it also helps to know what else factors into your risk of ovarian cancer. As mentioned earlier, older women are more likely to develop ovarian cancer, but the rare cases of ovarian cancer in younger women are easier to treat, according to UCSF Health.

Women should also consider their family history. Women who have a first-degree relative with ovarian cancer can have up to four times higher risk of ovarian cancer, per a 2023 article in Menopause Review. Those with the BRCA gene mutation or other genetic mutations are also at increased risk for certain cancers.

Waiting until you're after 35 to have a child — or never having a child at all — also increases your risk of ovarian cancer. Women taking hormone replacement therapy are also at risk. You'll also want to take a look at your diet. A diet high in fat has a six-fold increased risk of ovarian cancer, according to a 2016 article in the International Journal of Cancer.