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Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

September 22, 2016 | Stephanie Hoffman, WHNP

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OvarianCan.jpgWhat are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?

If you don’t know, you’re not alone. Ovarian cancer tends to generate fewer headlines than many other diseases, but when it comes to protecting your health, knowledge is the first line of defense. September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month—which makes this a great time to get educated on this cancer of the female reproductive system.

Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, according to the American Cancer Society. A woman's risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 75.

Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. There are three main types of cells in the ovaries, each of which can grow into a different type of tumor. Most ovarian tumors start from the cells that cover the surface of the ovary, called epithelial tumors.

Unlike breast and cervical cancers, however, there is no specific screening test for ovarian cancer. For the average woman without an increased risk, it’s recommended that they schedule yearly pelvic exams during which doctors can detect abnormalities that can lead to diagnostic testing.

The biggest risk factor for ovarian cancer is a personal or family history of the disease—or a history of breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, up to 10 percent of ovarian cancers are inherited. Mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes can predispose women to both types of cancer. Women with this family history should have a yearly transvaginal ultrasound and a CA-125 blood test.

So what are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Bloating, belly or pelvic pain, fatigue, feeling full quickly, indigestion, back pain, pain during sex, constipation and urinary problems can all be symptoms. The problem is, most of us experience at least one of those during the course of the average week.

It’s time to take action and make a doctor’s appointment when one or more of these symptoms occur suddenly, are not normal digestive or menstrual issues and, most importantly, don’t go away. Most ovarian cancer occurs in women older than 50, but it can occur at any age.

Once detected and confirmed through a biopsy, treatment for ovarian cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy. If ovarian cancer is treated before the cancer has spread outside the ovary, the five-year relative survival rate is 92 percent. However, only 15 percent of all ovarian cancers are found at this early stage. Five-year survival rates range from 78 to 17 percent for cancers that have reached Stage 2 and beyond.

Healthy lifestyle choices—not smoking, exercising, eating well and not being overweight—can help lessen the risk of cancer in general, but when it comes to reducing your chance of ovarian cancer specifically, it’s not always under a woman’s control.

Having children before age 35, breastfeeding and using oral contraceptives can all reduce the chance of ovarian cancer because they give the body a break from ovulation.

So take your health into your own hands by scheduling regular exams, knowing your family history, listening to your body and seeking medical attention when necessary.

To schedule an appointment with one of our women’s health specialists, contact us today.

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