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Why doctors never want women to ignore bloating

HOUSTON – Bloating is a minor complaint that could signal something majorly wrong with your health.

A British survey sheds a scary light on how many women dismiss bloating as a warning sign of cancer.

Luz Pena said she experienced bloating for two years.

“I tried ways to eat better,” she said “Then I started eating and I would feel full, like I just have two or three pieces, and I was like, 'No I’m not hungry anymore.'”

She thought it must  have been something she was eating.

According to a survey by cancer charity, Target Ovarian Cancer, half of women agreed they would change their diet before seeing a doctor. Only a third of women would see a doctor when they experience a major symptom of ovarian cancer, according to the charity.

Plus, Luz said everyone she would complain to thought her feelings were normal.

“You're 40, you're supposed to have that,” she said people would tell her.

The problem for patients like her is, her symptoms were telling her she had ovarian cancer.

“This is a disease that has a ton of symptoms, they're just easy to blow off,” Dr. Shannon Westin, an MD Anderson Cancer Center gynecologic oncologist said.

Ovarian cancer symptoms -- bloating, feeling full quickly, extreme fatigue-- are mild but persistent, he said.

Westin said if you feel this way, it doesn't always mean you have cancer, but almost all ovarian cancer patients have had those symptoms. 

“It's very common to hear that they were having these symptoms for a year, two years, they tried to change their diet,” Westin said. “If I have a patient that is having something for more than two weeks, then I’m concerned. Then, I want them to come in and get an evaluation.”

Luz is in remission now and works with MD Anderson's "Active Living After Cancer Program.” 

She said it helps to be more in tune with her body and healthier overall. She’s even participating in this year’s Sprint for Life 5K.

“It really changed my life. I’ve been very active. I’ve lost weight,” she said.

Before the diagnosis, Luz had even tested positive for the BRCA gene and she still missed the symptoms that she knew to be looking for.

 Westin said the lesson is, don't try to fix anything on your own. Talk to your doctor to make sure there's nothing else that can be done, especially if symptoms are persistent.

Remember, ovarian cancer is not always detected in a pap smear. Click here for ways doctors can screen for the disease.