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Health and Fitness News

Women, Pay Attention

Here’s what you should know about ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is a quiet, dreaded diseases that can sneak up on you without warning. This is due to the fact that early symptoms are easily mistaken for something else or go unnoticed altogether until the disease has progressed.

Like other cancers, the best outcome for battling ovarian cancer is having it detected and treated as possible. Unfortunately, only an estimated 15 percent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed in its earliest stages. While ovarian cancer ranks as the 11th-most common cancer for women, it is the fifth deadliest cancer women must face. It’s most often seen in women between the ages of 55 and 64, with 63 being the median age.

Read on to learn more about this quiet disease and how you can spot it before it’s too late.

What to Watch For

During its early stages, ovarian cancer rarely provides any noticeable symptoms. As the disease progresses, however, symptoms do arise. A woman may quickly feel full after eating a small meal or experience abdominal bloating, discomfort in the lower abdomen, constipation or other changes in bathroom habits, or unexplained weight loss.

See your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. You know your body better than anyone, so make an appointment if you feel something isn’t quite right.

Increased Risk

Researchers are still studying the mysterious cause of why DNA in the ovaries mutates and creates abnormal cells that multiply. While the cause is unknown, there are things that increase your risk of developing the disease. If you have any of these known risk factors, be on the watch for possible symptoms and don’t dismiss them as harmless.

Ovarian cancer becomes more of a risk the older you get. And some ovarian cancers are genetic and run in families. If a close relative has had ovarian, breast, or colon cancer or if you carry gene mutations (BRCA1 and BRCA2) passed down from your parents, you’re at a greater risk. A simple blood test can test whether you carry these genes.

Women who’ve had long-term or large doses of estrogen hormone replacement therapy are also at increased risk for ovarian cancer. So are those who started their period early or entered menopause late, are overweight, never had a baby, were over 35 years of age during their first full-term pregnancy, and had in vitro fertilization.

Lower Your Risk

Unless you’ve had a full hysterectomy with your ovaries removed, there’s no way to completely prevent cancer of ovaries. A partial hysterectomy that leaves your ovaries intact, however, reduces your risk by one-third. It also seems that you can lower your risk by having multiple full-term pregnancies and breastfeeding for prolonged periods. Taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills) is another way to reduce your risk. And the longer you take the pill, the greater the protective effect.

How It’s Diagnosed and Treated

Ovarian cancer is diagnosed through a series of exams, imaging tests, and blood tests. Sometimes, a full diagnosis can’t be made without surgery to remove one or both ovaries and possibly surrounding tissue and organs. Like other cancers, ovarian cancer is staged, with stage I being the earliest and most treatable stage, while and stage IV means the cancer has grown and spread to other parts of the body.

Advanced cancer requires chemotherapy to kill any cancerous cells found in the body. When these treatments fail, you may undergo targeted therapy with medications to destroy cancer cells.