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Ovarian Cancer Risks & Signs: What You Need to Know

July 18, 2016
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There is no general screening test for ovarian cancer, and unfortunately, like many gynecological cancers, the early warning signs can be hard to spot. That’s why it’s so important to understand your risk and listen to your body for symptoms.  

One in 71 women will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime, but only 15% of all ovarian cancer cases are detected at the earliest, most curable stage. It is the most common cause of death from gynecological cancer, and the 5th leading cause of cancer mortality overall.  

Dr. Tashanna Myers, a gynecologic oncologist with the Baystate Regional Cancer Program, shares what you should know about your level of risk and the early warning signs for this often deadly type of gynecologic cancer.  

Learn Your Individual Risk

The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age, especially around the time of menopause. Other risk factors include:

  • Having started your period when you were very young or reaching menopause late;
  • A family history of ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer, primary peritoneal cancer or premenopausal breast cancer;
  • A personal history of premenopausal breast cancer;
  • Infertility and not bearing children (pregnancy and the use of birth control pills decrease risk); or
  • Having a genetic mutation (BRCA1, BRCA2, Lynch).  

If you are concerned about any of your risk factors, talk to your gynecologist or nurse-midwife during your next appointment.  

Know the Symptoms

If you have any of the possible symptoms of ovarian cancer listed below that are frequent, persistent, and new to you, ask your doctor to consider ovarian cancer as a possible cause.

  • Bloating or increased abdominal girth
  • GI complaints:
  • Difficulty eating and getting full quickly
  • Disruption of normal bowel function
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Urinary symptoms:
  • Urgency
  • Frequency  

Most likely you do not have ovarian cancer. But if ovarian cancer is suspected or diagnosed, seek care first from a gynecologic oncologist (specialist in gynecological cancers), who will have access to the latest treatment options and clinical trials.