Understanding Ovarian Cancer Warning Signs and Risk

It’s estimated that 750 new cases of ovarian cancer will be discovered this year in Michigan, while 500 women are expected to die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

A cancer that starts in a woman’s ovaries, ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women nationally, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. In 2018, about 22,240 women across the country will be diagnosed and more than 14,000 will die.

Unlike other types of cancer, there’s no early detection test for ovarian cancer. However, your body will sometimes provide subtle signals that you should pay attention to:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often

There are certainly other conditions that could cause these symptoms, but you should see your doctor if one or more occur consistently for more than two or three weeks.

Are you at risk?
There are known factors that increase your risk for developing ovarian cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says these include:

  • Your age. Most ovarian cancer is detected in middle-aged or older women.
  • Your family history. If you have a mom, sister, aunt or grandmother who has had ovarian cancer.
  • Genetic mutation. If you’ve tested positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
  • Previous cancer, such as breast, uterine or colorectal.
  • Heritage, such as being descended from Eastern European or an Ashkenazi Jewish background.
  • Having endometriosis.
  • Never giving birth or having a history of infertility.
  • Hormone use. Some studies also suggest that taking estrogen (without progesterone) for 10 or more years also increases risk.

Because early detection increases survival rates for many cancers, it’s important to pay attention to your body. If something feels off, schedule an appointment with your doctor. You can also bring up any concerns you have about your risk for ovarian cancer at your next annual checkup.

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Photo credit: spukkato

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