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Ovarian Cancer: What Are the Symptoms and Who is At Risk?

Posted on September 20, 2016 by Noah Goldman, M.D., Director of Gynecologic Oncology, The Valley Hospital

According to the National Cancer Institute, ovarian cancer accounts for approximately 3% of all cancers in women and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women in the United States.

Because women in the early stages of ovarian cancer have either no symptoms or mild symptoms that can be easily – but mistakenly – attributed to other causes, it often goes undiagnosed until it has reached an advanced stage.
Who Is at Risk?
No one knows exactly what causes ovarian cancer, but factors that may increase risk include:
  • Age. Women over age 55 are much more likely to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer than younger women.
  • Family history. Women with a close relative (mother, daughter or sister) with ovarian cancer, as well as women with a family history of breast, uterine or colorectal cancers, may be at higher risk. If there is a strong family history of ovarian or breast cancer, genetic testing may be warranted to check for the presence of a specific gene mutation that increases risk.
  • Personal history. Women who have already had breast, uterine or colorectal cancer and women who have never been pregnant appear to be at increased risk. What Are the Symptoms?
Ovarian cancer symptoms are often mild or vague, and women may ignore or dismiss them. If you experience any of these symptoms, especially if they persist, it is very important to report them to your doctor:
  • Heaviness in the pelvic area
  • Lower abdominal pain, bloating or swelling
  • Gas, nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Urinary frequency or urgency
There is no routine screening test for ovarian cancer, but it is sometimes found during a pelvic exam. Otherwise, if a doctor suspects ovarian cancer, he or she may order a test called a transvaginal ultrasound. With a transvaginal ultrasound, a device called a transducer is inserted into the vagina. Sound waves then bounce off the reproductive organs and create digital images that can be read and interpreted by a radiologist.
Be Your Own Health Advocate

The good news is that National Cancer Institute is reporting that the incidence of ovarian cancer has been decreasing since the early 1990s. And, if found early, surgical and medical treatment can be very effective. The five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer caught at stage I ranges from 82.4% to 92.1% according to Johns Hopkins Pathology. So if you are experiencing any unusual abdominal or menstrual symptoms, don't hesitate to report them to your doctor.


Thank you Dr. Goldman for calling attention to this deadly but often overlooked cancer.

Dawn Terlizzi, September 22, 2016

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