OVARIAN CANCER AWARENESS
Each year, about 20,000 women in the United States get ovarian cancer. Among women in the United States, ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer and the fifth leading cause of cancer death, after lung and bronchus, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system, but it accounts for only about 3% of all cancers in women. When ovarian cancer is found in its early stages, treatment is most effective.
There is no way to know for sure if you will get ovarian cancer. Most women get it without being at high risk. However, several factors may increase a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer, including if you:
- Are middle-aged or older.
- Have close family members (such as your mother, sister, aunt, or grandmother) on either your mother's or your father's side, who have had ovarian cancer.
- Have a genetic mutation (abnormality) called BRCA1 or BRCA2, or one associated with Lynch syndrome.
- Have had breast, uterine, colorectal (colon), or cervical cancer, or melanoma.
- Have an Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish background.
- Have never given birth or have had trouble getting pregnant.
- Have endometriosis (a condition where tissue from the lining of the uterus grows elsewhere in the body).
Factors to Help Reduce Risk
There is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer. But these things may lower a woman’s chance of getting ovarian cancer.
- Having used birth control pills.
- Having had a tubal ligation (getting your tubes tied), both ovaries removed, or a hysterectomy (an operation in which the uterus, and sometimes the cervix, is removed).
- Having given birth.
- Breastfeeding. Some studies suggest that women who breastfeed for a year or more may have a modestly reduced risk of ovarian cancer.
While these things may help reduce the chance of getting ovarian cancer, they are not recommended as ways to prevent ovarian cancer. Risks and benefits are associated with each. Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk.
Ovarian cancer may cause one or more of these signs and symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge from your vagina that is not normal for you.
- Pain in the pelvic or abdominal area (the area below your stomach and between your hip bones).
- Back pain.
- Bloating, which is when the area below your stomach swells or feels full.
- Feeling full quickly while eating.
- A change in your bathroom habits, such as having to pass urine very badly or very often, constipation, or diarrhea.
Pay attention to your body, and know what is normal for you. If you have vaginal bleeding that is not normal for you, see a doctor right away. Also see a doctor if you have any of the other signs for two weeks or longer and they are not normal for you. These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see a doctor. The earlier ovarian cancer is found and treated, the more likely treatment will be effective.
There is no simple and reliable way to screen for ovarian cancer in women who do not have any signs or symptoms.
Screening is when a test is used to look for a disease before there are any symptoms. Cancer screening tests work when they can find disease early, when treatment works best. Diagnostic tests are used when a person has symptoms. The purpose of diagnostic tests is to find out, or diagnose, what is causing the symptoms. Diagnostic tests also may be used to check a person who is considered at high risk for cancer.
The Pap test does not check for ovarian cancer. The only cancer the Pap test screens for is cervical cancer. Since there is no simple and reliable way to screen for any gynecologic cancer except for cervical cancer, it is especially important to recognize warning signs, and learn what you can do to reduce your risk.
Here is what you can do:
- Pay attention to your body, and know what is normal for you.
- If you notice any changes in your body that are not normal for you and could be a sign of ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about them.
Ask your doctor if you should have a diagnostic test, like a rectovaginal pelvic exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, or a CA-125 blood test if:
- You have any unexplained signs or symptoms of ovarian cancer. These tests sometimes help find or rule out ovarian cancer.
- You have had breast, uterine, or colorectal (colon) cancer, or a close relative has had ovarian cancer.
- You have a genetic mutation (abnormality) in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, or one associated with Lynch syndrome.
To learn more about ovarian cancer, please visit The National Cancer Institute .
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