September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. This is a perfect opportunity to shed some light on this disease and the impact it has on women.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
In general, any type of cancer develops when there are abnormal cells that grow and overpopulate. Like most tissue in the body, the ovaries and Fallopian tubes can undergo such changes. Approximately 1 in 78 women are at risk for developing ovarian cancer. It is the second most common gynecological cancer, but the most common cause of death.
Unlike other cancers, such as cervical cancer that has a screening method via Pap smears or uterine cancer which has early signs and symptoms such as bleeding, ovarian cancer is often difficult to diagnose. It is on average diagnosed in women in their early 60s.
According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC), “when one is diagnosed and treated in the earliest stages, the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent. Due to ovarian cancer’s non-specific symptoms and lack of early detection tests, about 20 percent of all cases are found early, meaning in stage I or II. If caught in stage III or higher, the survival rate can be as low as 28 percent. Due to the nature of the disease, each woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer has a different profile and it is impossible to provide a general prognosis.”
** I want to add that many women will develop cysts or benign growths on their ovaries, and this is a normal occurrence. When we evaluate for ovarian cancer, we look at the whole picture including symptoms, diagnostic tests, and risk factors.
What are the common risk factors for ovarian cancer?
The theory is that the ovary constantly is going through change. Overtime, 1 in 78 women can develop some sort of cellular change that can lead to ovarian cancer.
- Increasing age
- Family history of ovarian or breast or colon cancer
- Ashkenazi Jewish background
- Genetic mutations for BRCA 1 and 2 positive
BUT! There are also Protective factors, including:
- Birth Control Pill use: it limits ovulation which is a form of cell change in the ovaries
- Giving Birth
What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?
This is particularly important in women who are past menopause. But this can affect young women as well. Understanding your body and recognizing changes is important.
- Pain and pressure in the pelvic area
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full
- Change in your bathroom habits
Is there a reliable screening test?
Unfortunately, there is not. If there is a suspicion for ovarian cancer, a physician can use certain diagnostic tests such as an ultrasound and a CA-125 blood test to help clarify those concerns.
If there is a history of cancer in your family or a genetic predisposition for ovarian cancer, speak to your doctor. My office offers a genetic screening test through #myriad (see the link below). I am happy to discuss ovarian cancer and its risk factors with you in person and shed some light. More so, cancer screening can give us some more in-depth information for your risk.
Continue to raise awareness about cancer. This month is Ovarian Cancer. The next will be breast cancer. Regardless of the time, knowing yourself, your body, personal history, and family history can give you the power to live a healthy life.
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