Listen to Your Body
According to the American Cancer Society, one in 75 women will develop ovarian cancer over their lifetime and over 22,000 new cases are diagnosed per year. Unfortunately, pap tests do not screen for ovarian cancer so it’s important to pay attention to any changes you experience in your body.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer can help you catch the disease at an early stage, allowing for a much higher rate of recovery. If you’re worried about the possibility of developing ovarian cancer, consider your own risk factors and talk to your doctor about the types of testing available to rule out a cancer diagnosis.
Risk Factors & Causes
While there are many different reasons a woman might develop ovarian cancer, certain risk factors do exist that might make you more susceptible. Women with a certain type of inherited genetic mutation called BRCA1 or BRCA2 make up about 10% of ovarian cancer diagnoses every year.
A family history of cancer, specifically breast, ovarian, or colon, can also put you at risk over others.
If you’ve never had children or had trouble trouble conceiving due to infertility or endometriosis, you are at higher risk for developing ovarian cancer than women who have conceived. The risk for developing the disease goes down after every pregnancy, with women who conceive before the age of 26 seeing the lowest risk.
Generally, ovarian cancer is seen most often in women over 63 years of age after the point of menopause. The risk for developing the disease seems to increase with age and fertility disability.
Signs & Symptoms
Symptoms of ovarian cancer varies from individual to individual, but there are a few commonly experienced signs of the disease. Bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, feeling full quickly after eating, frequent and urgent urination, and changes in bowel movements are all typical symptoms.
Additionally there may be fatigue, heartburn, back pain, pain during sex, and bleeding between periods. However, since a large majority of these symptoms are present in a number of conditions, having them doesn’t mean you have cancer.
A large number of early stage ovarian cancer cases had no symptoms at all. Most women don’t receive a diagnosis until their cancer has spread to other organs or has progressed to stage III or IV.
Anything that seems out of the ordinary for your body should be discussed with your doctor. Some doctors may dismiss your concerns as unnecessary worrying, but always trust your own body.
Doctors see what’s going on at a surface level, but don’t know how you are feeling unless you tell them. If you feel unwell, find a doctor who will listen to your concerns and go ahead with one of the screenings designed to diagnose ovarian cancer.
When to See Your Doctor
If you have any of the symptoms listed and they persist longer than a few weeks, see your doctor. Most of the time, they are caused by something unrelated to cancer, but it’s always better to get tested anyway or rule out other conditions.
It’s especially important to get regular screenings if you do have a genetic mutation or predisposition for ovarian cancer. Women 18 and over should have regular vaginal and pelvic exams along with pap smears every one to three years.
There are a few different screening avenues to detect the presence of cancer. Pelvic exams by a gynecologist or general physician can sometimes detect ovarian tumors by their size or tenderness in the area.
A transvaginal sonogram may also be done to try and view any abnormalities in the ovaries. Additionally, a blood test designed to detect a protein found in malignant ovarian tumors, called CA-125, can be helpful in making a diagnosis.
If any of these tests, or a combination of these tests, come out positive, the next step would be a surgical biopsy to actually test a tissue sample for cancer.
Even though there are a number of risk factors, symptoms and tests associated with ovarian cancer, they’re not always accurate in predicting a cancer diagnosis. Higher risk women won’t necessarily ever develop ovarian cancer nor will lower risk women always be in the clear.
Diet, lifestyle, prior medical history and even birth control use can all contribute to a diagnosis, but the fact of the matter is there’s no single thing that always causes the cancer to form in everyone. The best way to prevent ovarian cancer is by maintaining a healthy mind and body, staying on top of your health, and educating yourself about the disease.
Surgery and chemotherapy are the most commonly used forms of treatment. Learn more about ovarian cancer treatment options as well as how diet and nutrition for ovarian cancer patients can help your body cope better with chemotherapy over at NewLifeOutlook.
Cancer (What Is Ovarian Cancer?)
National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (What Is Ovarian Cancer?)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (What Are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?)