Ovarian cancer can happen in one or both of a woman’s ovaries. It is also known as the “silent killer” because it usually does not cause substantial signs or symptoms until it is too late. Although rare, ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system since it is usually diagnosed at a late stage.
There is currently no recommended screening test to detect ovarian cancer in women of average risk level. Nevertheless, there are things we can do to protect ourselves from this silent killer.
Know your risks.
Age is a common risk factor for all cancers. Most cases of ovarian cancer happen in women after menopause. Several other factors can also increase a woman’s risk for the cancer:
- Family history of ovarian cancer and breast cancer
- Genetic mutation (abnormality) related to ovarian cancer/breast cancer/colon cancer/uterine cancer
- Personal history of breast,colorectal (colon), or cervical cancer, or
- Having never given birth or have had trouble getting pregnant.
- Endometriosis (a condition where tissue from the lining of the uterus grows elsewhere in the body).
- Hormone replacement therapy
Pay attention to the changes in your body.
Many symptoms of ovarian cancer can also be caused by other less serious conditions. “If you have any of these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks, and they can’t be explained by other more common conditions, talk to your doctor right away,” said Dr. Gail Bauchman, Family Medicine Physician at the OB/GYN department of the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center:
- Bloating or abdominal swelling
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- Back pain
- Changes in menstrual pattern
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Increase urinary urgency and frequency
- Feeling full quickly during meals
- Indigestion or constipation
Take preventive measures.
Although routine screening of ovarian cancer is not recommended for the general public, diagnostic tests are available for women who are experiencing symptoms of ovarian cancer or those who are at a higher risk. Inform your doctor if you have any of the risk factors mentioned above.
Several lifestyle factors have been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer including
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Using birth control pills – the longer the use the greater the risk reduction
- Some at higher risk women have chosen to have their fallopian tubes tied and ovaries removed after they are done having children
Regardless of your risk level, see a gynecologist for routine check ups. Talk to your doctor about any abnormal changes you have experienced and what preventive measures are suitable for you. You can make an appointment at our OB/GYN Department by calling (212) 966-0228 for Manhattan or (718) 886-1287 for Queens, or by visiting our OB/GYN webpage.
This post is made possible with funding from the NYC Council.