Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

Ovarian Cancer: Risk Factors, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Paying attention to your body, understanding what’s normal for you, and looking out for changes are important ways to detect signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is the second most common type of gynecological cancer in the United States and causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Treatment works best when it’s discovered in its early stages, so it’s important to understand what ovarian cancer is, the risk factors associated with it and what symptoms to look for.

What Is Ovarian Cancer?

Cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the body grow out of control. These cells can form lumps of tissue called tumors. Ovarian cancer is a cancerous tumor that forms in the tissues of an ovary that can spread to other parts of the body.

Women have two ovaries, the size of a pair of walnuts, located on each side of the uterus. Your ovaries hold and release eggs for reproduction and make the hormones progesterone and estrogen. The ovaries are mainly made up of three kinds of cells. Each type of cell can develop into a different type of tumor. Learn more from the American Cancer Society about the different tumor types and subtypes of ovarian cancer.

Am I At Risk for Ovarian Cancer?

Any woman can get ovarian cancer and there is no way to know for sure if you’ll get it; however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, several factors can increase a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer, including:

  • Being middle-aged or older
  • Having close family members who have had ovarian cancer, such as your mother, sister, aunt or grandmother on either side of the family
  • Having a genetic mutation that raises your risk, including the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene
  • Having had breast, uterine or colon cancer
  • Having an Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish background
  • Having endometriosis
  • Having never given birth or having had trouble getting pregnant

Even if one or more of these statements is true for you, it doesn’t mean you’ll get ovarian cancer. However, understanding your risk factors and talking to your health care provider are important parts of keeping up with your health care. There may be certain situations where you and your health care provider may look at ways to lower your chances of getting ovarian cancer, but they aren’t recommended for everyone. This would include using birth control for several years, having your tubes tied, removing your ovaries or getting a hysterectomy.

What Are the Signs or Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?

Like many other cancers, ovarian cancer that’s detected early has the most successful response to treatment. Paying attention to your body, understanding what’s normal for you, and looking out for changes are important ways to detect signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.

If you notice any of these symptoms, reach out to your health care provider:

  • Vaginal bleeding (particularly if you are past menopause) or discharge that is abnormal for you
  • Pain or pressure in your pelvic area
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Difficulty eating or getting full too quickly
  • A change in your bathroom habits, like more frequently needing to urinate or constipation

These symptoms are not always indicators of ovarian cancer, but if you’re experiencing any of them, talk it over with your health care provider.

What Screenings or Treatment Are Available for Ovarian Cancer?

Female doctor examining a patient for women wellness.There is no reliable way to screen for ovarian cancer if you don’t have any signs or symptoms, which is why it’s so important to pay attention to your body and talk to your health care provider if you notice any changes or things that aren’t normal for you.

If you experience any symptoms of ovarian cancer, you can ask about a diagnostic test to find out what is causing the symptoms. A diagnostic test can sometimes help find or rule out ovarian cancer.

If you’re diagnosed with ovarian cancer, choosing the treatment that’s right for you will depend on the type and stage of your cancer. You can talk to your health care team about the benefits, side effects, and risks associated with each treatment and develop your treatment plan together. Treatment for ovarian cancer usually involves a combination of things, including:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted drug therapies
  • Hormone therapy
  • Radiation therapy

The American Cancer Society provides details about each ovarian cancer treatment option, including side effects, benefits and more.

What Resources Are Available to Help?

Be proactive when it comes to your reproductive health. Pay attention to your body and talk to your health care provider if you notice any changes.

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