According to the American Cancer Society, more than 21,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2020, and nearly 14,000 will die from the disease.
There are steps you can take for early detection and preventive measures. It is important for women to be aware of early warning signs of ovarian cancer. You are able to help catch it before it progresses.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
The ovaries are two small, oval-shaped organs on each side of the uterus which produce eggs and the hormones that control sexual development, ovulation, reproduction and the menstrual cycle. In ovarian cells, changes in hormones, which may or may not be affected by genetic abnormalities, can cause the abnormal growth of cells, known as cancer.
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are several factors that may make a woman more prone to ovarian cancer, including:
- Being middle-aged or older (while ovarian cancer is more common in women over 60 years old, it can occur in younger women, ovarian cancer in women under 40 years old is rare because the risk increases with age as women approach or complete menopause)
- Having an Eastern European background and/or having close family members who have had ovarian cancer (certain ethnicities have a high risk for gene mutations that can cause cancer and a family history of cancer can also indicate a gene mutation risk)
- Having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic abnormality or Lynch syndrome
- Being diagnosed with breast, uterine, or colorectal (colon) cancer or endometriosis
- Having issues getting pregnant or having never given birth
- Taking estrogen (without progesterone) for 10 or more years
If you have one or more of these factors, it does not mean you will get ovarian cancer, but you should speak with your doctor about your risk factors.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself from any disease, including cancer, is to pay attention to your body and know what is not normal for you. Here are some common signs of ovarian cancer:
- Vaginal bleeding (particularly if you are past menopause), or vaginal discharge that is not normal
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Back or abdominal pain
- Bloating, feeling full too quickly, or difficulty eating
- Frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation
If you have unusual vaginal bleeding, see a doctor immediately. If you experience any of these other potential warning signs, ask your doctor if you should have a diagnostic test, like a pelvic exam, an ultrasound, or blood test. These symptoms can be a sign of ovarian cancer, another gynecological health issue or may be nothing to cause worry.
Some of the information in this article can be attributed to EBSCO Information Services.