Cancer occurs when cells in the body grow at an uncontrolled rate; ovarian cancer occurs when these cells grow in the ovaries. According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death among women. The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance has identified certain factors, however, that may increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer, including a family history of breast or ovarian cancers on either side of the family; personally having had breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer; having a history of endometriosis; not having a biological child, or having a history of fertility problems; and being 40 years old or older (although younger women can also be affected). Women are recommended to have an annual well-woman exam, which may include a pap test. Note that the pap test does not screen for ovarian cancer, as there are no current medical tests with this ability, though further testing can be done if a woman is symptomatic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that symptoms of ovarian cancer are often mild and easily overlooked, mirroring symptoms caused by other medical problems, such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), gallstones, or even thyroid issues. Ovarian cancer is often not diagnosed until an advanced stage because of the wide array of conditions with similar symptoms, which can make it difficult to treat. It is important for every woman to be aware of what is normal for her own body and to talk to her provider about the possibility of ovarian cancer when something is not normal. Women should contact their provider if any of the following symptoms are present: abnormal bleeding or discharge; pain and/or pressure in the low-abdomen; back pain; bloating; constipation; feeling full very quickly after only eating a small amount; pain during sex; an urgent or more frequent need to urinate; nausea; and/or vomiting. Though no specific ovarian cancer screening test currently exists, there are tests available that help detect the presence of ovarian cancer if a woman is symptomatic. Talk to your provider about having an ultrasound, a rectovaginal exam, or a CA-125 blood test. A combination of these tests should be used to detect ovarian cancer, as any one test alone is not a fully accurate test for ovarian cancer. According to OCRFA, the CA-125 blood test only detects about 50% of early-stage ovarian cancers, 70% of advanced-stage ovarian cancers, and is most accurate in post-menopausal women who already have a detectable mass growing in their abdomen. It is also important to note that the CA-125 blood marker can be elevated for certain non-cancerous conditions. The ACS suggests that some lifestyle factors may lower a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer, including having a baby, taking birth control pills for more than 5 years, and breastfeeding for a year or longer. It is
also important to eat a healthy diet, be tobacco-free, and exercise. Take ownership for your health by discussing your personal risk with your provider, and by taking steps toward living a healthy lifestyle.
Contact your provider for more information, or for cancer screening information, call SCF Health Education at (907) 729-2689
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