However, ovarian cancer is very treatable if it’s caught early. Knowing your risks and paying attention to changes in your body are two of the most important things you can do to catch ovarian cancer before it advances.
September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month—the perfect time to learn more. At MetroHealth, we believe that knowledge is critical to your health care management. Here’s useful information to help you understand the signs, symptoms and risk factors for ovarian cancer.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer takes place in the ovaries, part of the female reproductive system. The ovaries play an important role in a woman’s ability to get pregnant because they produce the eggs required for reproduction.
Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells or tumors develop in the ovaries. These growths can spread to other parts of the body, which can make the disease more difficult to treat.
Common risk factors for ovarian cancer are family history, age, obesity, a history of infertility, breast cancer or endometriosis, a condition in which the cells of the uterine lining grow outside the uterus. Age is a critical risk factor because 90 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over the age of 40. Ovarian cancer typically develops after menopause, and is found more often in women who are 63 or older.
Studies have shown that the risk of ovarian cancer decreases for women with each full-term pregnancy. Breastfeeding also may lower risks for this cancer.
Family history is the greatest indicator of ovarian cancer risk, especially if your daughter, sister or mother have been diagnosed with the disease. High rates of colorectal and breast cancer within a family also are linked to a higher risk for ovarian cancer because inherited changes in specific genes usually run in families and increase the likelihood that family members may develop certain types of cancer.
Signs and Symptoms
Ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect because it often has symptoms that can be easily associated with other conditions. Weight loss, abdominal swelling and bloating, discomfort in the pelvis area, constipation, diarrhea and a frequent need to use the bathroom are often signs of ovarian cancer.
The body has a way of sending warning signals when something isn’t right, so it’s important to listen to what it may be telling you. You should talk to your doctor if you experience at least one of these symptoms for at least two weeks, especially if you have a family history of ovarian or other related cancers.
Ovarian Cancer Tests
Though the medical community has done extensive research to develop an ovarian cancer screening test, one still doesn’t exist. However, though unusual, a doctor may be able to detect ovarian cancer early during a pelvic exam. During the exam, he or she can feel the ovaries and uterus to see if there any inconsistencies in their shape or size.
Other cancer tests may have a minimal impact in ovarian cancer detection. Pap smears rarely find ovarian cancer, but when they do it is often when the disease has advanced. However, testing for a cancer antigen, a protein found on the surface of ovarian cancer cells, and doing a pelvic ultrasound to look for a lump may be more effective ways to find and diagnose ovarian cancer.
One of the best methods for early detection is to see your doctor if you experience things like abdominal pain, pelvic discomfort, abnormal changes in your bowel movements and other associated symptoms. If you’re over 40 and have experienced menopause, you should pay even closer attention to bodily changes and these potential symptoms.
Early detection is so important for all cancers, but especially ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer primarily affects older women, so it’s important that you talk to one our trained health care professionals at MetroHealth if you’re concerned about your risk for ovarian cancer. We’re here to give you the best primary care, to help you prevent certain health issues and improve your quality of life, and coordinate care for any health conditions you may experience. Contact us if you have any questions or concerns about ovarian cancer or if you’d like to make an appointment.levitra