Eight Things to Know About Ovarian Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 22,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and about 14,000 women will die from the disease.

All women should be aware of their risk for ovarian cancer. The symptoms of ovarian cancer aren’t as easy to identify as some other cancers, and there are no screening tests for early detection. If you notice any symptoms that persist over time, be sure to tell your physician.

  1. About one in 78 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer during their lifetimes. Ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
  1. Your risk rises with age. Half of all new ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed in women who are 63 or older.
  1. There are no screening tests for early detection of ovarian cancer. Unlike some other types of cancer, there are no tests that can detect the signs of ovarian cancer at an early stage. Only about 20 percent of all cases are found early, in stage 1 or 2. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to your symptoms.
  1. The symptoms of ovarian cancer can mimic other health issues. Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include abdominal bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, changes in appetite (including feeling “full” more quickly) and urinary urgency/frequency. Other symptoms include fatigue, back pain, pain during sex, changes in the menstrual cycle, heartburn or upset stomach. If you experience these symptoms frequently, and if they persist over time, talk to your doctor.
  1. Family history is a key factor. Your risk of developing ovarian cancer is higher if a close relative—including a grandmother, mother, sister or daughter—has experienced the disease.
  1. Breast cancer survivors may also be at an increased risk. Research indicates that women who have had breast cancer are at increased risk for developing ovarian cancer. Abnormalities in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes—which also affect breast cancer risk—can lead to the development of ovarian cancer.
  1. Several factors are associated with a decreased risk of ovarian cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women who have used birth control pills for five or more years, as well as those who have given birth, are at a lower risk for ovarian cancer. Some studies also suggest that women who breastfeed may also be at a slightly lower risk.
  1. Your doctor can help you understand your risk. It’s crucial for women to schedule an annual pelvic exam with a healthcare provider. During that exam, providers ask patients about their personal and family medical histories, and can help them understand their risk for ovarian cancer.

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