Tips to know your ovarian cancer risk and symptoms

Mount Sinai Experts Share Tips for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in September

Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of death in American women, according to the American Cancer Society, and accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. And according to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 22,240 women will be diagnosed with the disease in 2018; 14,070 will die from it.

"Any woman who experiences unexplained bloating, an upset stomach, an urgency to urinate or abdominal pain for a few weeks, should go see a doctor," said Stephanie V. Blank, MD, Director of Gynecologic Oncology for the Mount Sinai Health System, "and if her doctor does not take these symptoms seriously, she should see another doctor.

"Too often, women are sent to the wrong doctor, or told they're just aging or gaining weight when experiencing these kinds of symptoms, and by then they have lost valuable time."

Mount Sinai experts are available during September's Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month to offer tips on detecting symptoms, understanding the benefits of genetic testing, and to discuss emerging therapies.

Experts Available for Interviews & Resources

Know Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Women diagnosed when their disease has not spread beyond the ovary have a five year survival of 93%. Because the ovaries are small and embedded deep within the abdominal cavity, detection is difficult and often delayed. Since the prognosis depends on the stage of the cancer, or detecting it before it has spread, it is especially important to recognize the following symptoms:

  • Gastrointestinal upset such as gas, indigestion or nausea
  • Pelvic and/or abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Pelvic and/or abdominal bloating or swelling
  • A constant feeling of fullness
  • Unexplained change in bowel and/or bladder habits
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Abnormal or any bleeding post-menopause

Everyone has these symptoms at some time, but if you have these symptoms and they worsen or persist for two weeks, you should seek medical attention.

Ovarian Cancer Risks

  • Family and personal history: more than 20 percent of ovarian cancers are attributed to inherited genetic mutations. Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 are responsible for most inherited ovarian cancers. The lifetime ovarian cancer risk for women with a BRCA1 mutation is estimated to be between 40 and 50 percent and for women with BRCA2 mutations, between 10 percent and 29 percent. In comparison, the ovarian cancer lifetime risk for the women in the general population is less than 2 percent.
  • Age: Ovarian cancer is not a normal disease of aging, but risk increases with age. Most ovarian cancers develop after menopause, and half of all ovarian cancers are found in women 63 years of age or older.

Ovarian Cancer Prevention

  • Birth Control Pills: Long term use of oral contraceptives reduces the risk of developing ovarian cancer by approximately 50 percent.
  • Gynecologic Surgery: Hysterectomy, tying tubes. Preventative removal of tubes and ovaries is the best means of ovarian cancer prevention (but is not appropriate for all women).
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