Senior Home Care Blog - Western Cook & Eastern DuPage Counties

Know the Signs of Ovarian Cancer

By Mary Doepke, RN

The American Cancer Society predicts that 22,800 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, and half of those women will be 63 or older.

September is ovarian cancer awareness month – a time to get familiar with the signs of ovarian cancer, its causes and what can be done.

According to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, the disease may not be as silent as was once believed. Several studies show that even early-stage ovarian cancer can produce symptoms such as:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms, including urgency or frequency

Of course, all of these symptoms can point to a number of conditions other than ovarian cancer, many of which may be harmless. But if symptoms are new or unusual for you and occur frequently over the course of a month, seeing a gynecologist is the best course of action.

Unlike breast cancer and cervical cancer, there is no simple screening tool to detect ovarian cancer. Even regular gynecological exams fail to catch the disease in its early stages. And aside from surgical removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes, there’s little to be done in terms of active prevention.

So what is a woman to do? Be aware of your body and don’t ignore changes.

Some risk factors for ovarian cancer, like age, genetics and simply being female, can’t be changed. But there are things that women can do to control other risk factors.

Hormones

Every woman has a love-hate relationship with hormones and the situation doesn’t change when it comes to ovarian cancer.

While hormone replacement therapy and fertility drugs are believed to increase risk, five or more years of oral contraceptive use may cut risk in half. Pregnancy and breastfeeding also lower the risk of ovarian cancer. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any hormone-based medication.

Obesity

A 2009 study referenced on the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance website found that among women 50 to 71 who had not taken hormones after menopause, obesity was associated with an almost 80 percent higher risk of ovarian cancer.

That’s one more important reason to maintain a healthy weight.

Know your Body

As stated before, be aware of your body and don’t ignore changes. Better to have a few false alarms than miss the warning signs. When it comes to cancer, early detection is still the best means to survival.