Ovarian cancer is one of the most deadly of women’s cancers, more common than vaginal or vulvar cancer. Here are some things you should know:
- One in 75 women are diagnosed during their lifetime
- The American Cancer Society estimates there are approximately 21,980 new cases of ovarian cancer every year
- Ovarian cancer typically occurs in women in their 50’s and 60’s – the median age is 63
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often subtle and easily confused with other ailments. Most new cases are diagnosed at Stage 3 or later, meaning the cancer has already begun to spread to the lymph nodes and outside the pelvis.
Signs and Symptoms
Ovarian cancer is hard to detect due to your ovaries being deep in your abdomen. There are four common symptoms of ovarian cancer which include:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Feeling the need to urinate urgently and frequently
Other symptoms may also include:
- Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation or diarrhea
- Extreme fatigue
- Shortness of breath
It’s important to note that many of these signs and symptoms are not exclusive to ovarian cancer. If you are experiencing these symptoms for more than two or three weeks continuously, contact your doctor for possible examinations.
Stages of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is categorized into four stages. If diagnosed, your doctor will determine what stage the cancer is.
Stage I: The cancer is completely contained within the ovary or ovaries
Stage II: The cancer is in one or both of the ovaries and has spread to additional organs located in the pelvis such as the bladder, colon, rectum or uterus
Stage III: The cancer is in one or both ovaries and has spread to one or both of the following: the lining or the abdomen or the lymph nodes
Stage IV: This is the most advanced stage of ovarian cancer. The cancer has spread from one or both ovaries to additional organs such as the liver or lungs, or there may be cancer cells in the fluid surrounding the lungs.
Many women don’t get or seek treatment until the disease has begun to spread, but if detected during Stage I, the five-year survival rate is more than 93%.
Know Your Risk
Studies have found that women who have a mother, daughter or sister with ovarian cancer have had an increased risk of development. In addition to the genetic risk that comes from having a family history of ovarian cancer, postmenopausal women should be aware of the following risk factors:
- Personal history of cancer
- Family history of breast or ovarian cancer
- Women over the age of 65
- Women who were never pregnant
- Women on menopausal hormone replacement therapy
The National Cancer Institute says certain genetic testing can determine if you have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer from having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. These genes produce tumor suppressor proteins which help repair damaged DNA, but when mutated or altered damaged DNA may not be able to be repaired properly. This can then lead to cancer cells forming.