Even though the rate of ovarian cancer diagnosis has been steadily declining for the past 20 years, we shouldn’t let our guards down. Awareness is perhaps the most important key factor that will contribute to our own health.
Ovarian cancer is known as the “silent killer” due to the lack of symptoms. The symptoms are so common that they are often misdiagnosed as other illnesses. Taking a preventive approach is key to keeping healthy! Early detection saves lives, and having the correct information to make the right decision regarding your health can help navigate the required steps towards recovery. Even though there is no screening test for the early detection of ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about alternative screening tests on a regular basis; especially if there is a precedent of reproductive cancer in your family.
Awareness and Prevention are key! Know your stats and risk factors.
To put things into perspective, The American Cancer Society estimates that:
About 22,240 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
About 14,070 women will die from ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
A woman's risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 75.
This cancer mainly develops in older women. About half of the women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 years or older. It is more common in Caucasian women than African-American women.
Even though ovarian cancer has a low incidence, it is typically diagnosed at an advanced stage and the overall five-year survival rate is poor at best: only 45% of women diagnosed will survive.
Understanding the Risk Factors associated with ovarian cancer are of significant importance:
Estrogen hormone therapy, especially with long-term use and in large doses.
Age when menstruation started and ended. If you began menstruating before age 12 or underwent menopause after age 52, or both, your risk of ovarian cancer may be higher.
A small percentage of ovarian cancers are caused by inherited gene mutations – BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women with these mutations also have a significantly increased risk of breast cancer.
Never being pregnant.
Use of an intrauterine device.
Polycystic ovary syndrome.
Learn about the symptoms. It may save your life!
Of concern is the generality of the symptoms, which at times may lead to a misdiagnosis. Doctors have compiled a list of the symptoms most reported form women with ovarian cancer. If you experience any of the following repeatedly for an extended period of time during a month, make sure you talk to your doctor:
Other issues that might accompany these symptoms include fatigue, an upset stomach, back-pain, pain during sex, constipation, menstrual changes and abdominal swelling with weight loss. The tricky thing is that the discomfort caused by these nonspecific symptoms are often mistaken for more common benign conditions such as constipation or irritable bowels. Again, the key issue then becomes having these symptoms REPEATEDLY in a month.
The problem with early detection of ovarian cancer is that physicians typically do not address ‘ovary health’ on a regular basis unless there are some symptoms present. The tests that are used to screen for ovarian cancer start with a complete pelvic exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, and the CA-125 test. This last one, which everyone relates to diagnosing ovarian cancer, only confirms there is a high probability of such cancer being present and is used to monitor ovarian cancer survivors after they are diagnosed and have received initial treatment.
Although an early screening test for ovarian cancer is not yet fully developed, you can ask your gynecologist to conduct a pelvic and rectal exam. Imaging tests such as an ultrasound or a CT scan can also be of assistance should there be anything abnormal in your pelvic exam.
Most importantly, stay informed, and stay on your path to health!
American Cancer Society
Centers for Disease Control