A woman has a 1 in 67 chance of developing ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women, and it causes more deaths than any other type of female reproductive cancer. The cause is unknown.
Ovarian cancer symptoms are often vague and non-specific, so women and doctors often blame the symptoms on other, more common conditions. By the time the cancer is diagnosed, the tumor has often spread beyond the ovaries.
The risk for developing ovarian cancer appears to be affected by several factors. The more children a woman has and the earlier in life she gives birth, the lower her risk of ovarian cancer. Certain genes are responsible for a small number of ovarian cancer cases. Women with a personal history of breast cancer or a family history of breast or ovarian cancer have an increased risk for ovarian cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the following groups have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer:
- Women whose first-degree female relative (mother, daughter or sister) was diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, especially before menopause
- Women older than 50
- Women who have never had children
- Women who have had breast or colon cancer
- Women who have used fertility drugs
- Women over age 50 who have used talc in the genital area for many years
- Women who used hormone replacement therapy after menopause
Hereditary ovarian cancer
About 10 percent of ovarian cancers are genetic. These cancers tend to strike women at an earlier age than non-hereditary cancers. Norton Genetic Counseling Service offers genetic education, risk assessment and testing for people who are concerned about their risk of hereditary cancers. For more information, call (502) 629-GENE.
The best way to prevent ovarian cancer is to have yearly pelvic exams and a vaginal ultrasound if you are at high risk for developing the disease.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are:
- General abdominal discomfort and/or pain that does not go away in two or three weeks or worsens
- Nausea, diarrhea, constipation or frequent urination
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling of fullness even after a light meal
- Weight gain or loss with no known reason
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
For more information on ovarian cancer prevention, contact the Norton Cancer Institute Prevention & Early Detection Program at 1-800-555-6772 or (502) 629-5500 or email email@example.com. A health care professional will research and respond to your question within 48-hours. Exceptions may include weekends and holidays.
Unfortunately, many cases of ovarian cancer go undiagnosed in the early stages because the symptoms are similar to those in less serious disorders such as indigestion. In fact, many women eventually diagnosed with ovarian cancer initially see their physician because of gastrointestinal problems. That's why it is crucial for women, particularly those older than age 60 to be aware of the signs of the disease.