Many women do not know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, or if even they are at risk for this often devastating cancer.
What makes awareness so important is early detection. Most ovarian cancers are discovered in Stage 3 or later, which has a poorer outlook on survival and longevity. Being diagnosed in Stage 1 or 2 increases your survival at 5 years to 90% from a mere 30%! That’s why we are talking.
The statistics of this cancer are frightening. Almost 24,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014, and over 14,000 women will die as a result of their cancer. It is the leading cause of death from cancer of the reproductive tract for women, and claims the lives of one out every 100 women.
Knowing the risks and signs could help provide an earlier diagnosis; which significantly helps with survival of this devastating cancer.
Factors that increase the risk of ovarian cancer include:
• being over 60 years of age
• a lack of pregnancy or first pregnancy over 35
• use of fertility drugs, especially without becoming pregnant
• having a family history of breast or ovarian cancer regardless of which side of the family the cancer is on
• Having many cancers within your family
• Having the BRCA gene mutation increases risk of ovarian cancer by 30-70%, depending on the gene mutation
Factors that decrease the risk of ovarian cancer include:
• Having one or more full term pregnancies before 35
• Having breast feed
• the use of contraceptives (including depoProvera)
• bilateral tubal ligation
• Hysterectomy without removal of ovaries
• Removing ovaries would of course reduce the risk entirely.
Knowing you may be at higher risk will hopefully increase your vigilance regarding the potential early symptoms of ovarian cancer.
The early symptoms often sited are vague and nondescript; easily passed off to other reasons. It is the persistence of these symptoms that should alert you to the need for evaluation by a medical professional, especially if you have one or more risk factors.
Early symptoms can include abdominal bloating, new constipation, fullness and less appetite, even heartburn. There may be unusual fatigue, back pain, abdominal or pelvic pain/cramping/discomfort. It is the persistence of these symptoms that is most important. Feeling any of these symptoms either alone or in combination, for longer than 2 weeks; indicates the need to seek medical attention and evaluation.
Go armed with the facts and voice your concerns. Don’t be shy or quiet about your concerns or suspicions. Ask your medical provider if you are at risk for ovarian cancer and should you get an ultrasound and blood test (CA 125). While not 100% accurate or specific, these 2 tests are the best screening we have.