September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and as the fifth most common cancer among women in the U.S., we want to share with you some general ovarian cancer information with you and steps you can take to assess your risk for ovarian cancer, and support your body in preventing such a disease.
Ovarian cancer is a gynecologic cancer that the National Cancer Institute (NCI) describes ovarian cancer as, “cancer that forms in tissues of the ovary (one of a pair of female reproductive glands in which the ova, or eggs, are formed). Most ovarian cancers are either ovarian epithelial carcinomas (cancer that begins in the cells on the surface of the ovary) or malignant germ cell tumors (cancer that begins in egg cells).”1 The NCI estimates that there will be 21,990 new cases of ovarian cancer in the United States in 2011, and that deaths from ovarian cancer in 2011 will hit 15,460.
Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors
- Family history of cancer – A family history of ovarian, breast, uterus, and rectal cancer. Keep in mind that paternal history is also important – that is, your father’s mother or sister’s having had ovarian or breast cancer puts you at higher risk.
- Age – About 90%of women who get ovarian cancer are over the age of 40. Women over the age of 55 are at higher risk.
- Never been pregnant – women who have given birth or been pregnant are at a lower risk for ovarian cancer than women who have never been pregnant.
- Personal history of cancer – according to the NCI, women who have had breast, uterus, colon or rectal cancer are at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.
Ovarian Cancer Symptoms
- Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back, or legs
- A swollen or bloated abdomen
- Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation, or diarrhea
- Feeling very tired all the time
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling the need to urinate often
- Unusual vaginal bleeding (heavy periods, or bleeding after menopause)
Ovarian Cancer Detection
Contrary to popular belief, pap tests or pap smears do not test for ovarian cancer. If you have any of the ovarian cancer symptoms listed above, you should see your doctor, who may recommend a more involved test, such as a rectovaginal pelvic exam or a transvaginal ultrasound.
Ovarian Cancer Prevention
You’ll need to consult with your physician to determine if birth control is a right for you, but women who use oral contraceptives may be at lower risk for ovarian cancer.
In general, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, among others, are known to contain vital nutrients that may help prevent cancer. Aside from maintaining a healthy diet, there are a few foods and beverages that studies have shown may be extremely powerful in preventing ovarian cancer:
Tea – Tea contains flavonoids that may also help prevent ovarian cancer. In fact, researchers in Sweden looked at tea consumption and ovarian cancer in more than 60,000 women over 15 years and discovered that women who drank two or more cups of tea a day had a 46 percent lower risk of ovarian cancer than those who didn’t drink tea.2
Tomatoes – Tomatoes contain lycopenes, and a study from the American Cancer Society shows that women who ate two or more one-half cup servings of tomato sauce per week had a 40 percent decrease in risk for ovarian cancer, compared to women who reported eating tomato sauce less than once a month.3
Lowering Ovarian Cancer Risk
Many risk factors for ovarian cancer, such as some of those listed above, cannot be prevented. While we can’t control our age or our family’s history of cancer, we can increase the protective and preventive steps we take to improve our overall health and help protect ourselves from cancers, such as ovarian cancer. Participating in regular exercise, reducing stress, avoiding smoking, and prioritizing good nutrition are all necessary steps to take when improving health and lowering cancer risk.
For more information on ovarian cancer, you can visit the National Cancer Institute’s website on the topic. For information on how ovarian cancer is treated at an NCI designated cancer center, check out the Winship Cancer Institute’s ovarian cancer information.
The content of this blog post has been reviewed by a physician at the Winship Cancer Institute, Georgia’s only NCI-designated Cancer Center.