Although every woman is at risk of developing ovarian cancer, certain factors can increase your chances.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, giving women everywhere a chance to learn more about the dangers of this disease and how to recognize the warning signs through the campaigns like The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition’s TEAL (Take Early Action & Live). Over 21,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, but the prognosis can be promising if detected early and treated effectively. Unfortunately, many diagnoses come too late. Any woman can develop ovarian cancer, but certain risk factors can make you more susceptible. By understanding the signs of ovarian cancer, this can lead to an earlier diagnosis if you consult your doctor as soon as possible.
What are the Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer does not discriminate, but there are factors that can increase your risk of developing the disease, especially epithelial ovarian cancer, the most common type.
- Age. This condition tends to strike older women – menopause increases your risk of developing ovarian cancer, so it is more common in woman ages 50 to 60.
- Genetics. Women who have inherited a mutation of genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 have a slightly elevated risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy. Long-term estrogen replacement therapy, used to help reduce the symptoms associated with menopause, may increase your risk of ovarian cancer, especially when taken in large doses.
- Family Cancer History. If you or a member of your family have had breast, colon, ovarian, or related cancers, this increases your risk.
- Early Menstruation or Menopause. If your menstruation began before the age of 12, or if menopause arises prior to the age of 52.
- Reproductive History. Women who experience infertility and either undergo infertility treatments or never become pregnant are included in this category. Women who have their first full-term pregnancy after the age of 35 increases the risk. Use of an intrauterine device, or IUD, for birth control over oral contraceptives has also shown to increase your cancer risk.
- Health & Diet. Smoking, obesity, and alcohol use are all negative health issues that increase your risk of developing a huge myriad of diseases.
- Endometriosis. This condition is marked by the migration of cells from the uterus to areas outside of the uterine cavity – this condition is often marked by long, painful periods and infertility.
How Is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?
There is currently no diagnostic test for ovarian cancer, but there are other means of detection. The first step would be a routine pelvic exam, during which your doctor will look for signs of an enlarged ovary or excess fluid. Blood tests can detect abnormal hormone levels and check for the protein CA 125, an indicator that ovarian cancer cells are present.
If the physician suspects cancer, or if you fall into a high risk category, a transvaginal ultrasound will determine the health of the ovaries by looking for signs of masses like cysts or tumors. In some cases, your doctor may do a minimally invasive procedure to procure a tissue sample from one of the ovaries. This allows them to look at the ovarian cells under a microscope and check for cancer growth. If the results show signs of cancer, you will be referred to a gynecologic oncologist for further testing and treatment.
Can You Prevent Ovarian Cancer?
There is no treatment that ensures you will not get ovarian cancer, but you can reduce your risk. Adding cancer fighting foods to your diet, like those high in antioxidants, will help to protect your cells from environmental toxins and damage from aging that can lead to cancer growth. Follow some preventative measures to take action early:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle and manage your weight. This enhances your overall health and improves your immune system.
- If you fall into one of the risk categories, talk to your doctor about how to reduce your risk.
- Breastfeed your baby, as this natural process helps reduce your risk of developing many diseases, including ovarian cancer.
Ultimately, the best resource at your disposal if you have questions about ovarian cancer is your gynecologist. Regular exams and screenings are the ways to stay healthy and informed, so contact The Woman’s Clinic if you want to learn more about the signs of ovarian cancer.