September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. It provides an opportunity to talk about this dangerous cancer and the fact that symptom awareness may be lifesaving.
Ovarian cancer is not a Silent Killer
Studies have shown that ovarian cancer is not silent. Rather, the warning signs are subtle. In fact, 90% of women do report symptoms, even at the early stages. Four symptoms have been proven to occur more often in females with ovarian cancer as compared to those in the general public. If any of these symptoms are new and unusual and occur at least 12 times in one month, the woman should see a doctor - preferably a gynecologist:
- Pelvic and abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary Issues including changes in frequency or urgency.
Factors That May Decrease and Increase the Risk of Ovarian Cancer
Factors which may decrease the risk of ovarian cancer include: oral contraceptive use, removal of fallopian tubes and/or ovaries, and breastfeeding.
Factors which may increase the risk of ovarian cancer:
- Personal or family history of ovarian, breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer. About 20-25% of ovarian cancer is hereditary. Any female who has been diagnosed with a form of ovarian cancer should be referred to a genetic counselor.
- Increased number of menstrual cycles in a lifetime (never had children, late menopause, etc.)
- Infertility, regardless of whether fertility drugs were used
- Use of Hormone Replacement Therapy
- Increasing Age (Note: ovarian cancer affects all ages and all ethnic groups.)
Why Symptom Awareness is Key
Due to the lack of an early detection test, only 15-20% of ovarian cancer is detected early. In 2016 in the United States, it is estimated there will be 22,280 new cases of ovarian cancer and 14,240 women will die from the disease. In Michigan in 2016, it is estimated there will be 760 cases and 480 women will die from ovarian cancer.
Until There's a Test, Awareness is Best
Early detection of cancer is vital. Since there is no screening test for ovarian cancer, symptom awareness is key. Know your body and know the symptoms.