Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource discusses myths and facts about ovarian cancer

Here are highlights from the September issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource. You may cite this publication as often as you wish. Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource attribution is required. Reprinting is allowed for a fee. Include the following subscription information as your editorial policies permit:

Clarifying Myths: Ovarian Cancer can Have Early Symptoms, can be Successfully Treated

Ovarian cancer is a frightening diagnosis that often comes after the cancer has spread. As a result, it's the most deadly of the gynecological cancers.

But not all the news about ovarian cancer is grim. Incidence is declining. Doctors are learning more about early symptoms and more effective treatments. The September issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource looks at myths and facts about ovarian cancer.

Myth: There are no early symptoms.

Fact: Many women with ovarian cancer do have early warning signs. However, common symptoms -- abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating, urinary urgency and pelvic discomfort or pain -- mimic those of many other conditions. It's not unusual for women with ovarian cancer to be diagnosed first with a digestive or bladder disorder. With these concerns, symptoms tend to come and go, occur in certain situations or be related to certain foods. With ovarian cancer, symptoms are likely to occur daily for weeks or months on end. Symptomatic women who have been treated for other health conditions and have not improved should schedule a follow-up visit with their doctor or seek a second opinion.

Myth: Pap tests can detect ovarian cancer.

Fact: Pap tests, also called Pap smears, are designed to detect cervical cancer, not ovarian cancer. Other exams and tests can help detect ovarian cancer but none are helpful for routine screening.

When ovarian cancer is suspected, a doctor will likely perform a pelvic exam to check for masses or growths on the ovaries. Other diagnostic tests include a CA 125 blood test and a transvaginal ultrasound. The protein CA 125 often is elevated in women with ovarian cancer. A transvaginal ultrasound is used to produce detailed images of the ovaries and other reproductive organs.

Myth: Most women with ovarian cancer have a family history of the disease.

Fact: Only 10 to 15 percent of ovarian cancers are inherited. The most important risk factor for ovarian cancer is the presence of inherited mutations in breast cancer genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Other risk factors are personal or family history of breast cancer, obesity, and a woman's age. Most patients with ovarian cancer are postmenopausal.

Myth: Women who have had a hysterectomy can't get ovarian cancer.

Fact: During a hysterectomy, a surgeon removes the uterus and usually the cervix. In some cases, the fallopian tubes and ovaries are removed. If one or both ovaries are left intact, ovarian cancer is possible. There's a very small chance of the disease, even when the ovaries are removed.

Myth: Ovarian cancer is always deadly.

Fact: Ovarian cancer is a serious illness, but it's not always deadly. An estimated 21,550 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009, and 14,600 will die from the disease. When ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated early, five-year survival rates are nearly 93 percent. Having a gynecologic oncologist perform the surgery increases survival rates. Combining certain chemotherapy drugs also may improve survival rates and help prevent recurrence, even in women with later stages of the disease.

Pass on the Salt: Most Americans Would Benefit from Lower Sodium Intake

Most Americans consume too much salt, contributing to the risk of heart disease and stroke, reports the September issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource.

"Many people probably are aware that too much sodium can cause or aggravate hypertension, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke," says Gary Schwartz, M.D., a Mayo Clinic hypertension specialist. "They may be less aware that a high sodium intake can increase the risk of stroke even without an increase in blood pressure."

High sodium intake also can increase the risk of osteoporosis and kidney stones. Studies have shown a relationship between a high-salt diet and stomach cancer.

How much salt is too much? A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a maximum of 1,500 milligrams (mg) daily for most Americans. That recommendation has been in place since 2005 for people with high blood pressure or at risk of high blood pressure. However, it's new -- and lower -- for most Americans. The previous guideline was 2,300 mg daily, the equivalent of about a teaspoon of salt.

Dr. Schwartz says the average American is eating at least two to three times the recommended daily amount of sodium, and most don't realize it. That's because most sodium isn't coming from the kitchen salt shaker. About 80 percent of consumed salt comes from foods that are processed, canned or purchased in restaurants.

The best way to reduce sodium intake is to eat more fresh foods and less canned and processed foods. Other sodium-reducing tips include:

  • Cut back on eating in restaurants, especially fast-food restaurants.
  • Use unsalted spices in cooking, for example, garlic powder instead of garlic salt.
  • Rinse canned vegetables to remove sodium.
  • Check grocery labels for sodium content and opt for those products with low sodium.

Budget Friendly Fitness: Tips to Break a Sweat Without Breaking the Bank

A health club membership isn't a prerequisite for staying in shape. The September issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource offers suggestions on free and low-cost options to help stay in shape without straining the budget.

Buy used equipment: Some sporting good stores specialize in used equipment. Great deals can be found online too. But be aware that shipping costs might put the cost out of budget range. Shoppers should be cautious about responding to ads, since scams abound.

Buy affordable equipment (or make your own): Hand weights are reasonably priced, available in many sizes, and can be used to strengthen every muscle group. Home-improvised versions work well too. Milk jugs or water bottles filled with varying levels of water or sand work well as weights. (Secure the tops with duct tape.)

Check out the local recreation department: Many community recreation centers offer discounted fitness classes to local residents. High school or college fitness centers or swimming pools also may be open to community members.

Use exercise DVDs: Practice aerobics, yoga, strength training and tai chi with DVDs. They are available to buy or rent. Libraries are a good source, too.

Share costs with a friend: Trade exercise DVDs with a friend. Find a personal trainer who is open to you sharing sessions with a friend or two.

Know what to avoid: Some fitness products aren't worth buying, no matter how low the price. Avoid products that offer instant fitness benefits or promise to melt away pounds without diet and exercise. Avoid products that focus on one body part, such as abs or thighs.

Make the most of everyday activities: Walking, gardening, taking the stairs, and playing with children or grandchildren offer free fitness benefits.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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