What Every Woman Should Know About Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is about the most lethal gynecologic malignancy because it is often diagnosed at the advanced stage. Approximately 70% of patients with ovarian cancer are diagnosed at an advance stage.

What Is Ovarian Cancer?

The ovaries are the part of the female reproductive system located on either side of the lower abdomen, producing eggs every month during a woman’s reproductive years.

Ovarian cancer occurs when cells in the ovary grow and divide uncontrollably,the cells may form a tumor on the ovary, or they can also break off from the main tumor and spread to other parts of the body.

It has the highest rate of deaths among the gynecologic cancers—those affecting the uterus, cervix, and ovaries.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Ovarian Cancer?

There are usually no obvious or unique symptoms of ovarian cancer. Nonetheless, key signs and symptoms to look out for include:

  • Abdominal swelling or bloating
  • Generalized abdominal discomfort
  • Fullness after meals
  • Lack of appetite
  • Upset stomach
  • Malaise
  • Urinary frequency
  • Weight change (either gain or loss)
  • Vaginal bleeding (especially if you are past menopause)
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge.

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It is important to pay attention to your body, if you have abnormal vaginal bleeding or have any of the other symptoms for two weeks or longer, you should see your doctor right away.

These symptoms can be caused by many other problems, but it’s best to have them evaluated.

How Is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?

A definitive diagnosis of ovarian cancer requires surgery.

What are the treatment options for ovarian cancer?

After the initial diagnosis has been established at surgery, additional therapy will depend on several factors, including the cell type, the stage, and the extent of spread of the cancer.

Treatment includes

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation.

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Risk Factors For Ovarian Cancer

The following risk factors are linked to a higher chance of developing the disease:

1. Family history

Women with close relatives who have had ovarian or breast cancer have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, compared with other women.

Genetic screening can determine whether somebody carries certain genes that are associated with an increased risk

2. Age

Most cases of ovarian cancer occur after menopause, and especially in women aged over 63 years. It is rare before the age of 40 years.

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3. Reproductive History

Women who have had one or more full-term pregnancies, especially before the age of 26 years, have a lower risk. The more pregnancies they have, the lower the risk.

Breastfeeding may also decrease the risk.

4. Birth Control

Using the contraceptive pill for at least 3 to 6 months appears to reduce the risk. The longer the pill is used, the lower the risk appears to be.

Using an injectible contraceptive hormone, depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA or Depo-Provera CI), especially for 3 years or more, reduces the risk further.

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5. Infertility/ Fertility Treatment

Fertility drugs have been linked to a higher risk of ovarian cancer, especially in women who used them for more than one year without becoming pregnant.

Those who are infertile may also have a higher risk than those who are not, possible due to not carrying a pregnancy.

6. Breast Cancer

Women who have received a diagnosis of breast cancer have a higher chance of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

For this reason, women who are diagnosed with breast cancer and who test positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene may opt to have an oophorectomy (surgical removal of one or both ovaries) as preventive therapy.

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7. Hormone Therapy

HRT slightly increases a women’s risk of developing ovarian cancer. The risk appears to increase the longer the HRT continues, and returns to normal as soon as treatment stops.

8. Obesity/Overweight

Being obese and overweight appear to increase the risk of developing many cancers. Ovarian cancer is more common in women with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30.

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What Can I Do To Prevent Ovarian Cancer?

There are no known ways to guarantee prevention of ovarian cancer. Women who are diagnosed in an early stage, however, have a higher survival rate.

Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is usually not diagnosed at an early stage. Currently, no effective methods for diagnosing ovarian cancer early exist.

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Can I get ovarian cancer if I have my ovaries removed?

Removal of the ovaries, even if it does not eliminate it, appears to lower the risk of developing ovarian cancer for women at high risk.

In general, women found to be carriers of an ovarian or breast cancer gene or who have a strong family history may be appropriate candidates for removal of the ovaries.

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