Posts Tagged ‘ovarian cancer’

Awareness of Symptoms Can Help Detect Ovarian Cancer Earlier

Ovarian Cancer Awareness MonthOvarian cancer used to be called the “silent killer” because it was thought the symptoms of this gynecological cancer often appeared too late to begin effective treatment. However, we now know certain symptoms do occur early enough to help catch the disease when it’s easier to treat.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain (below the stomach and above the hips)
  • Trouble eating
  • Getting full quickly
  • Urinary urgency
  • Urinary frequency

While ovarian cancer may not be silent, it may be more appropriate to call it devious since these same symptoms often are caused by more common, and less lethal, conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.

In reality, ovarian cancer is rare, accounting for about 3% of all cancers in women. Statistics published by the American Cancer Society estimate a women’s lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer is 1 in 72, and her lifetime chance of dying from it is 1 in 100. In comparison, a women’s lifetime risk of developing lung cancer is about 1 in 16 and 1 in 20 for colorectal cancer.

However, ovarian cancer is still the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in U.S. women. Women experiencing these symptoms should see their gynecologist, especially if:

  • symptoms occur almost daily last for more than a few weeks and;
  • feel different from “normal”—in other words, the symptoms are more frequent or severe than usual.

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Stomach upset
  • Back pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal swelling along with weight loss

No one is truly sure what causes ovarian cancer; however, genetics and ovulation appear the biggest factors.

Ovarian cancer risk factors include:

  • Age— Risk increases as women age, particularly after menopause, until about the age of 75. Ovarian cancer in women under 40 is rare.
  • Reproductive history—Women who have never been pregnant, have suffered multiple miscarriages or have undergone multiple abortions appear to be at higher risk
  • Family and personal history of cancer— The risk of developing the disease can be as much as 50% higher in women whose mothers or sisters have had ovarian cancer. Risk also increases in women who have been treated for breast, uterine or colorectal cancer. In fact, women in this risk group may want to consider BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing. Mutations in these genes can indicate a higher risk.
  • Fertility treatments— Women who have taken fertility drugs to induce ovulation, such as clomiphene, tend to be at higher risk.
  • Lifestyle—Obesity and high-fat diets have been shown to increase risk.

On the other hand, risk seems to decrease for women who have:

  • Taken birth control pills
  • Given birth to one or more children, with each full-term pregnancy dropping the risk by about 10%
  • Breast fed
  • Undergone tubal ligation or a hysterectomy

Related Resources:

Get the 4-1-1 on Ovarian Cancer & Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

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

Birth Control

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.