Ovarian cancer is commonly referred to as a "silent killer" because unfortunately, the symptoms are very vague, if noticeable at all. The ovaries are located deep within the pelvic area and are difficult to feel. Further, the symptoms often do not occur until the tumor has grown and spread beyond the ovaries.
Most symptoms are similar to those of non-life-threatening, non-cancerous conditions. However, singularly and in combination, the symptoms are more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than in women with other medical conditions. Be aware if you experience any of these symptoms. Early detection is the key to an increased survival rate.
- Bloating or swollen abdomen or midsection
- Pain or pressure in the abdomen or pelvis
- Decreased appetite or feeling full quickly
- Urgency or frequency of urination
- Constipation or diarrhea; changes in bowel movements
- Unusual fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Menstrual irregularities or bleeding after menopause
Every woman must be a vigilant self-advocate for her own health.
Knowing your normal daily bodily functions -- and recognizing changes in them -- is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself. Experiencing any of these symptoms, especially more than one, should serve as a red flag. If the symptoms are new, unexplained, occur almost daily and/or last for more than 2-3 weeks, please seek immediate medical attention, preferably with a gynecologist.
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ALL WOMEN ARE AT RISK OF OVARIAN CANCER. Nearly 1 in 70 American women will develop the disease during their lifetime. Technological advances in medicine and research have uncovered risk factors which may increase a woman's chance of developing ovarian cancer.
Increased Risk Factors
- Previous cancer diagnoses
- Family history of ovarian, uterine, endometrial, colon, or rectal cancer
- Age over 55
- Use of hormone replacement therapy during menopause
- Uninterrupted menstrual cycles (no pregnancies, infertility)
- Inherited genetic mutations (BRCA, RAD51D, and others)
- Being of Jewish descent
Two other factors which may contribute to an increased risk of ovarian cancer also have been identified: a diet that is high in meat and animal fat (common in industrialized Western countries where there is a higher prevalence of ovarian cancer) and the use of talc or baby powder in the genital area (talc is related to asbestos, a known carcinogen; the particles can travel to the ovaries and create toxic results).
Experiencing any of these symptoms or possessing any of the risk factors (especially more than one) should serve as a red flag. A gynecologist or a gynecologic oncologist can help determine if you have ovarian cancer.
Research has also shown that there are several factors that can help contribute to a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Decreased Risk Factors
- Oral contraceptive use for a period of more than five years
- Child-bearing and have first full-term pregnancies prior to
- Breast feeding infants
- Preventive Surgery (salpingo-oophorectomy, hysterectomy and/or tubal ligation)
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