Ovarian Cancer: How to Catch a Silent Killer
Ovarian cancer is a silent killer, and it is often not detected until the disease is in its final, fatal stages. Early detection of the disease can mean the difference between life and death. Being an advocate for your own health, and knowing the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, is critical to timely treatment.
Ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect because the cancer originates deep within the pelvic cavity. According to the Mayo Clinic, ovarian cancer begins in the ovarian tissue in cells on the outside of the ovary, in the egg-producing cells, or in the cells that produce hormones. The cancer cells can travel and spread to other parts of the body before the site of the original cancer if found.
Some symptoms of ovarian cancer may be subtle and easy to ignore at first. If these symptoms persist or become more severe, they may indicate ovarian cancer. Signs of ovarian cancer include:
- Abdominal bloating or a consistent feeling of fullness or pressure
- Pain in the pelvic or abdominal area
- Continual gas and indigestion
- Changes in bowel and bladder routines
- Loss of appetite or unusual weight loss
- Lower back pain
- Unusual discomfort during intercourse
- Changes in menstrual period
- Persistent fatigue
The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition recommends that women seek medical advice if any of these symptoms persist for longer than two weeks. Only about 19% of ovarian cancer cases are discovered in the early stages, according to Coalition. Often women don’t realize they are ill until the disease has progressed to the point where tumors create pressure and discomfort in the abdominal area.
High Risk Factors
Some women are at a higher risk for ovarian cancer than others. Women have an increased risk of ovarian cancer if they have a family history of this type of cancer or if they have a previous diagnosis of breast, rectal, colon or uterine cancer. Older women are more likely to have ovarian cancer than younger women. Ovarian cancer can occur at any age but it is most common after the onset of menopause. Women who have never been pregnant are also at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.
The BRCA breast cancer gene causes a small percentage of ovarian cancers. The mutations of this gene are most common among Ashkenazi Jews but are found in populations throughout the world. This gene can be inherited and notably increases the risk for ovarian cancer.
Regular exams are key to detecting ovarian cancer. If you are in a high-risk category, your doctor may recommend genetic testing for the BRCA gene or other tests or procedures to help detect or rule out ovarian cancer. The CA-125 blood test is the most common tumor marker for ovarian cancer. A transvaginal sonogram provides doctors an opportunity to view the ovary without surgery.
Women should be aware of individual risk factors and be alert to the symptoms of ovarian cancer in order to catch the disease in its early, more treatable stages.