Each year, about 20,000 women in the United States develop ovarian cancer. Approximately 1.3% of women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer at some point during their lifetime. This cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. When it is found in its early stages, treatment works best.
Ovarian cancer was once thought to be cancer originating in the ovaries. New research shows that this cancer begins in the fallopian tubes and the ovaries.
Unfortunately early diagnosis of this disease is difficult. Symptoms include pain in the abdomen or pelvis, bloating or pressure in the pelvis and urinating more frequently. Obviously these symptoms can be caused by many other conditions that are not cancer however if they persist for more than a few weeks you should report them to your doctor.
The biggest risk factor of ovarian cancer is a positive family history. Research has shown that about 10-15% of patients with ovarian cancer have inherited a gene. The most common includes BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. Women with a strong family history should speak to their doctor regarding being screened for a genetic mutation.
Other risk factors include:
-Advanced age: This disease is most likely to develop in post-menopausal women.
-Obesity also increases the risk of getting ovarian cancer.
-Childbirth: not giving birth to a child raises a woman’s risk
How to lower your risk:
-Have one or more children. Your risk drops more if you have a child before the age of 30
-Breast-feed. Your risk drops more if you breast-feed for over a year
-Use birth control pills. Your risk drops very significantly if you take them for five years or more
-Remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Although not 100% reliable, this very significantly decreases your risk. This procedure is generally recommended in women who carry a genetic trait and are done with childbearing.
Dr. Obron states that thus far there are no reliable ovarian cancer screening tests. However should a patient develop symptoms, a transvaginal ultrasound as well as a blood test called CA-125 may be helpful in making this diagnosis. Unfortunately neither of these tests has been shown to save lives when used strictly as a screening modality in patients who have no symptoms.
Most women are diagnosed at later stages of ovarian cancer because the symptoms are not that obvious. However, earlier detection can mean a higher chance of survival which is why it’s very important to discuss any suspicious symptoms with your healthcare provider.