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Ovarian cancer – know your risk

Ovarian cancer – know your risk

Of the female reproductive cancers, ovarian cancer is definitely one of the most mysterious. Early ovarian canceroften causes no symptoms at all. When symptoms do appear, the symptoms may be attributed to other causes. This often leads to a later diagnosis.

Ovarian cancer is not as common as other cancers, but it is the number one killer of all female reproductive cancers. This may be because it is difficult to diagnose it early, when it is most treatable.

At present, there is no one test that is recommended for routine ovarian cancer screening. One of the best things you can do is educate yourself on its symptoms and your risk. Ovarian cancer typically causes some of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal bloating and/or pain, sometimes accompanied by weight loss
  • Pelvic pain
  • Trouble eating normal quantities, feeling full quickly, or nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Change in bowel habits (constipation) or problems with urination (going too frequently or too urgently)
  • Menstrual changes

Many of these symptoms can be caused by less serious, benign conditions. The key factor is that they are ongoing and are different from what you normally experience. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and don’t know the cause, talk to your gynecologist.

Experts are continuing to conduct research on the risk factors associated with ovarian cancer. They have found that certain things put you at higher risk of developing this type of cancer. They include:

  • Having a special gene mutation called BRCA1 or BRCA2
  • A family history of ovarian cancer
  • Personal history of melanoma or breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer
  • Infertility and/or never given birth
  • Being older than 55 years
  • Having endometriosis

It’s important to note that having any of these risk factors is just one piece of the puzzle, and does not mean you will get ovarian cancer. If you have any of these factors, talk with your gynecologist about what he or she recommends for you.

A few protective factors have been identified for ovarian cancer. These are things that may lower your risk of getting this type of cancer. The known protective factors include:

  • Taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills), especially when taken for longer periods of time
  • Breastfeeding
  • Having a tubal ligation (a procedure that closes your fallopian tubes to prevent future pregnancies)
  • Having ovaries and fallopian tubes removed surgically (risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy or RRSO). This procedure should be done only in high risk patients when its benefit are shown to be greater than its risk. Your gynecologist can talk with you about this surgery if you are at high risk for ovarian cancer.

The CarePoint Health Gynecological Oncology Department specializes in expert, compassionate care for women with reproductive cancers. For more information about the comprehensive women’s services we provide, please contact us.

Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.

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