Ovarian Cancer: Early Detection Is Up To You

Ovarian cancer is unique. Unlike many types of cancer, there is no annual screening to promote early detection. Instead, recognizing symptoms and knowing your risks are the best defense. There is a common misconception that a pap test screens for ovarian cancer; however this is not the case, it only tests for cervical cancer.

All women have some level of risk when it comes to ovarian cancer. In Georgia alone, it is estimated that hundreds of woman are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year and the mortality rate continues to be nearly 50 percent. 

While ovarian cancer is certainly one of the scariest cancers, when it is detected early (stage 1) the average five-year survival rate is nearly 90 percent. Early detection plays a huge role in making ovarian cancer treatable and the good news is, you can play an integral part in it. By taking a proactive stance and knowing the risk factors, the signs and symptoms, as well as eating a low-fat diet you are reducing your overall risk.

While there are multiple risk factors that can increase your risk of ovarian cancer; these are some of the most important to know:
  • Hereditary Tendency: For those that have the breast cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, you are more likely to develop ovarian cancer. Overall, roughly 20 to 25 percent of all ovarian cancer diagnoses are the result of genetics.
  • Lynch Syndrome: Also a genetic tendency, this inherited disorder is caused by hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), which increases the risk of developing ovarian cancer by nearly 10 percent.
  • Family History: Even without an inherited genetic mutation, women with a first-degree relative with ovarian cancer are more likely to develop it.
  • Reproductive History: Research suggests that there is a relationship between a woman’s reproductive history and her risk of developing ovarian cancer, these include: starting menstruation before age 12, has not given birth to any children and/or is infertile, had her first child after age 30, has experienced menopause after age 50, or has never used or taken oral contraceptives.
  • Increased Age: As women age, they are at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, regardless of other risk factors. Woman ages 55-64 are at the highest risk.
  • Obesity: Being overweight can increase your risk of multiple cancers and disease, ovarian cancer being one of them. 
Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is known by many as the silent killer because many women don’t experience any noticeable symptoms. In fact, many of the symptoms may seem like the result of average, everyday conditions. On top of that, symptoms are their most noticeable once the cancer has spread outside of the ovary; however, if any of these symptoms are irregular for you or persist for longer than a week, talk with your physician
  • Indigestion, heartburn, nausea, or gas
  • Belly swelling or discomfort
  • Pelvic pain or cramping
  • Bloating or a sense of fullness, especially after eating
  • Backache
  • Pain or burning during urination (with no infection)
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or unintentional weight loss or gain
  • Vaginal bleeding or irregular periods
  • Pain during intercourse

Remember, by taking action, you can either rule out ovarian cancer, or get the treatment you need as early as possible. Talk with your physician about your medical history and the options you have for testing and diagnostics if you notice any changes or persistent symptoms. In the event that you do need specialized care for ovarian cancer, the Center for Cancer Care at Gwinnett Medical Center will provide care from the area’s top oncologists, radiologists and cancer treatment experts. Our specialists will ensure you receive the most thorough and compassionate care possible at every stage of the healing process. 

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