“I’m so lucky. I urge women to pay attention to what’s going on in their body. They know themselves better than anybody else. If something’s bothering you, so what if they think you’re crazy, go the doctor.”
Ovarian Cancer National Alliance website
Image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
BE AWARE OF THE SIGNS OF
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Until recently doctors thought that early-stage ovarian cancer rarely produced any symptoms, and there was no way to detect it early. New evidence has shown many women do have symptoms before the disease has spread. There is also a blood test that indicates the possibility of ovarian cancer, and recent studies have shown how it can be used more effectively.
Being aware of these indicators may lead to earlier detection of ovarian cancer (and in some cases other gynecological disease like uterine cancer), before they become life-altering.
Advances In Healthcare Screenings
If you’re at higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, your doctor may recommend regular screenings with pelvic imaging and a specific blood test that measures your level of a protein called CA125.
This test isn’t currently in widespread use because of a high percentage of false positives, but a new study that followed women for 14 years found more effective ways to analyze the results, an approach that may lead to earlier diagnoses.
The new approach looks at how levels of the CA125 protein change over time and uses a formula to interpret these changing levels by also taking into account the woman’s age and the overall rate of ovarian cancer at that age as well as profiles of other women, some of whom ended up getting ovarian cancer. With this approach, a woman’s risk level can be better identified and, working with her doctor, can decide whether more tests and/or treatment are needed.
Know Your Risk Factors For Ovarian Cancer
Certain factors may increase your risk of ovarian cancer:
Your age: Ovarian cancer most often strikes women between the ages of 50 and 60, though it can develop at any age. The age at which you started and stopped menstruating may also raise your risk—if you started getting your period before age 12 and/or began menopause after age 52.
Your genes: The same inherited gene mutations that increase the likelihood of breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2 also significantly increase ovarian cancer risk.
HRT: Having estrogen hormone replacement therapy, especially for a prolonged period, raises your risk.
Your health history: Never being pregnant, having infertility treatments, using an IUD for birth control or having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may also be risk factors.
Smoking: If you are a smoker, here’s how you can quit now.
What Every Woman Can Do Now
The following symptoms of ovarian cancer, and sometimes other gynecological cancers, tend to mimic those of other conditions, including digestive disorders. With a digestive disorder, they tend to come and go. With other gynecological cancers the symptoms are constant and will gradually worsen.
It is important to check with a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms described below, especially if they persist.
- General abdominal or pelvic discomfort and/or pain including gas, indigestion, nausea, pressure, swelling, bloating, and cramps
- Diarrhea, constipation, or urinary urgency and frequent urination
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Clothes fitting tighter around your waist
- Pain during intercourse
- Irregular periods
- Abnormal bleeding from the vagina
- A persistent lack of energy
- Low back pain
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