Several preventative screenings help women stay on top of their health. Mammograms can detect breast cancer at its earliest stages, and Pap tests are a powerful tool for identifying abnormalities that can lead to cervical cancer. However, there is currently no preventative screening available for the most deadly gynecological cancer: ovarian cancer.
According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, ovarian cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells occur inside, near or on the outer layer of the ovaries, depending on the type and stage. The ovaries are almond-shaped organs within a woman’s reproductive system that store eggs as well as produce estrogen and progesterone.
Ovarian cancer is tricky because it often presents with vague symptoms that can be confused for other ailments or that are easy for women to brush off as nothing. These symptoms, which typically get more intense over time, include:
• Pelvic or abdominal pain
• Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
• Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
• Upset stomach or heartburn
• Back pain
• Pain during sex
• Constipation or menstrual changes
The NOCC notes that persistence of symptoms is key when it comes to the possibility of ovarian cancer. If a woman’s symptoms are new and don’t resolve with normal interventions, such as a change in diet, exercise or increased rest, after a two-week period then a consultation with a doctor is recommended.
Listening to your body is the best way to catch ovarian cancer in its earliest stages, when the survival rate is near 90%. Sadly, only about 19% of ovarian cancer diagnoses are made in these early stages (stages I or II) due to the silent signs and symptoms, according to the NOCC. If diagnosed in stage III or higher, the survival rate dips as low as 28%.
Also, it’s important to be aware of your risk factors, which includes genetic predisposition; personal or family history of breast, ovarian or colon cancer; increasing age; and infertility. Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you will ultimately develop ovarian cancer, but you should be vigilant in watching for early symptoms if you do.
Did You Know?
One in 78 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her lifetime.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women ages 35-74.
The American Cancer Society estimates that, this year, over 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed and more than 14,000 women will die from ovarian cancer.
Pap tests do not detect ovarian cancer.
All women are at risk, but genetic factors do come into play. Genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations can show potential risk for breast and ovarian cancer as well as several other cancers.
Source: National Ovarian Cancer Coalition