Ovarian cancer is sometimes referred to as “The Silent Killer,” because it can be so stealth.
It’s the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the U.S., according to American Cancer Society, in part because it’s often overlooked. That’s because early on, there may be no symptoms, or its symptoms—things like bloating, back pain or a frequent need to urinate—could be confused with another common condition, according to the Mayo Clinic.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a good time to educate yourself on ovarian cancer, which starts in or near the ovaries, in hopes that one day, it won’t keep quietly hurting women.
Who gets ovarian cancer?
While anyone can become ill with ovarian cancer, there are some common factors that may increase your risk of being diagnosed with this disease, according to American Cancer Society. Your risk may be slightly higher for ovarian cancer if you…
- Are post-menopausal: more than half of these kinds of cancers happen in women older than 63
- Are taking hormone therapy following menopause
- Are overweight or obese
- Never had children or never had a full-term pregnancy
- Participated in fertility treatment
- Have a family history of cancer syndrome or a history of cancers, including breast, ovarian and colorectal
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
“Vague,” is the word MD Anderson Cancer Center uses to describe the symptoms associated with ovarian cancer, because often, the symptoms could be associated with any number of other common issues. Have a look at MD Anderson’s list and you’ll understand why many women aren’t diagnosed with this kind of cancer until it progressed:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort, such as gas, bloating, cramps, indigestion, pressure and swelling
- A feeling of fullness or bloating after eating, even if it’s just a light meal
- Nausea, diarrhea or constipation
- Frequent urination
- Back pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained weight gain
- Loss of appetite
- Vaginal bleeding that is abnormal
- Changes in menstruation
- Pain during sexual intercourse
Are there ways you can prevent ovarian cancer?
While there’s no agreed-upon way to prevent ovarian cancer, there are some behaviors and conditions that tend to be associated with a lowered risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Your risk may be slightly lower for ovarian cancer if you…
- Have used birth control for five years or more
- Have had a tubal ligation, a hysterectomy or had your ovaries removed
- Have given birth
- Have breastfed
Can you screen for ovarian cancer?
“There are no simple and reliable ways to screen for ovarian cancer in women who do not have signs and symptoms,” says the CDC. Because of that, it’s critical to listen to your body. If you notice changes—including any of the symptoms listed above—talk to your doctor, and don’t be shy about it. When signs and symptoms are present, he or she may be able to do a diagnostic test or a genetic test to either find or rule out cancer.
According to American Cancer Society, only about 20 percent of ovarian cancers are found in the early stages. It’s important to educate yourself and advocate for yourself if you suspect you might have ovarian cancer. The result could be priceless: when this kind of cancer is found early, it increases the odds of treatment being successful.
How is ovarian cancer treated?
Treatment for ovarian cancer often involves surgery to remove the cancer, says the Mayo Clinic. Depending on the stage of the cancer, that may mean the removal of one or both ovaries, removing the uterus and, in cases where the cancer has spread, removing other necessary areas. In addition, chemotherapy is frequently used following surgery to get rid of any remaining cancer cells. Other treatments that healthcare providers may use include targeted therapy, immunotherapy and hormone therapy.
It’s time to turn the volume up on this “Silent Killer.” Now that you’ve educated yourself, talk to friends and family about what you’ve learned. Remind them to pay close attention even to seemingly small changes that take place in their body. No one wants to feel as though they’re overreacting to something minor. But in some cases, doing so could change a life.