Ascites is a condition in which fluid collects in spaces within your abdomen. Although the most common cause of ascites is cirrhosis of the liver, for about 10 percent of people with ascites, the cause is cancer.
Ascites caused by cancer most often occurs with advanced or recurrent cancer of the ovary, bladder, colon, breast, pancreas, or lung, and with lymphomas. If severe, ascites may be painful, and the problem may keep you from moving around comfortably. Ascites can set the stage for an infection in your abdomen. Fluid may also move into your chest and surround your lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
These are symptoms of ascites:
Swelling in the abdomen
Sense of fullness
Sense of heaviness
Nausea or indigestion
Swelling in the lower legs
Shortness of breath
Your health care provider may diagnose ascites by doing a physical exam and asking about your symptoms. He or she may also order tests to confirm ascites, such as:
Removing a sample of fluid from your abdomen through a needle. This fluid will be checked for signs of disease, such as cancer or an infection. This test may help point to the cause of the ascites.
Taking images of the inside of your abdomen using ultrasound, X-rays, or a CT scan. A CT scan creates computerized images using X-rays.
A number of steps may help relieve your ascites. Your health care provider may tell you to:
Cut back on your salt intake. Your doctor or a dietitian can show you how to follow a low-sodium diet. Avoid salt substitutes containing potassium, since some medications used in treating ascites can cause your potassium levels to rise.
Cut back on the amount of fluids you drink.
Take diuretic medicines to help reduce the fluid in your body.
In certain cases, your doctor may need to remove large amounts of fluid from your abdomen through a needle. This may be necessary if you're having trouble breathing or the diuretic is not working.
Certain steps to help you avoid cancer can prevent ascites related to cancer. For example, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly may reduce your risk for breast and colon cancer. Avoiding smoking and limiting salt in your diet may lower your risk of stomach cancer.
Be sure to follow your health care provider's advice for lowering your salt intake. You'll need to do this even if you're taking diuretic drugs to reduce fluid in your body. Weighing yourself daily and calling your doctor if you gain too much weight may help your health care provider manage your ascites better.