Ovarian Cancer Early Detection
Our mission is to empower women with the knowledge of ovarian cancer’s signs and symptoms, risk factors and provide recommendations. Learn, be well and share this knowledge with other women.
Did you know?
- Ovarian cancer has been called a silent killer. It doesn’t have to be.
- It can be caught and treated early through education, thoughtful awareness of what feels normal in your body and clear communication with your OB/GYN.
- It is relatively rare. Statistically, only 1 in every 70 women will develop this disease. Half of those occur in women over 65.
- A word about fallopian tube cancer: While it’s even rarer than ovarian cancer, some researchers now suspect that most high-grade serous type ovarian cancers started in the fallopian tube and branched to the ovary.
Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian and Fallopian Cancer
Research shows that ovarian cancer is not a silent disease.
Even early-stage ovarian cancer can cause commonly known symptoms. It’s tricky because these symptoms track with more common conditions like ulcers, diverticular disease, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and inflammatory diseases.
Not Silent — Almost 95 percent of patients with an ovarian cancer diagnosis have experienced one or more of the following four problems:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain.
- The abdomen grows or is persistently bloated.
- The urge or need to urinate more often than usual.
- Feeling full quicker, even after just a light meal.
If the following signs and symptoms are not usual experiences in your body, please note them. If they persist and occur more than 12 times in a month, schedule an appointment with your gynecologist to discuss further.
- More than usual gas and indigestion
- Unexplained changes in weight
- Irregular periods and menstrual cycles
- Vaginal bleeding outside of the normal menstrual cycle
- Pain with intercourse
- Low back pain that gets worse with time
- Nausea, vomiting or indigestion
- Changes in bowel movements, either diarrhea or constipation
- More than usual fatigue which might be taken for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Discomfort in the pelvic region
- Excessive hair growth
Just remember, ovarian cancer is rare. Stay calm and visit with your doctor about next steps.
These symptoms are most likely caused by some other condition. In fact, they occur just about as frequently in women who do not have ovarian cancer.
With regard to fallopian cancer, the most common symptoms are pelvic pain, discharge and a pelvic mass. However, these symptoms rarely show up together. Postmenopausal women who experience vaginal bleeding should schedule an appointment with their gynecologist for further evaluation.
Risk Factors for Ovarian and Fallopian Cancer
Genetics — A family history of ovarian or fallopian cancer may indicate increased risk. Women who inherited specific gene mutations may be at a higher risk of ovarian and fallopian cancer. These include:
- Breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2). These genes were originally isolated in families who were being studied for extensive history of breast cancer and that’s why they’re named the way they are. Nonetheless, they are also linked to an increased risk of other cancers, like ovarian, uterine, endometrial, and colon.
- One of the genes related to a condition called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) also known as Lynch syndrome.
Age — Ovarian cancer can arise at any age, but it’s most common in women over 50.
Increased estrogen exposure — hormone imbalances may lead to increased risk of developing ovarian or fallopian tube cancer. There are several reasons a woman might have prolonged or extra estrogen:
- Longer duration of childbearing years — starting her period before age 12 and entering menopause later in life. Never getting pregnant also means extra estrogen exposure.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), certain birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs).
- Fertility treatment.
- Diets high in animal fat and obesity. That’s because fatty tissue produces estrogen.
- Certain ovarian tumors as well as polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Smoking — As you probably know, smoking is a known risk factor for many many cancers, not just those of the lungs.
Recommendations for Ovarian and Fallopian Tube Cancer
If family history, or consequent genetic testing, indicates an inherited predisposition to ovarian or fallopian cancer, your gynecologist or gynecologic oncologist may recommend pelvic imaging and blood tests for regular screening.
Your physician will take a full medical history, perform a physical examination including a pelvic and Pap smear to rule out other gynecologic cancers.
The rest of the diagnostic work-up will depend on your age, symptoms and general health. Diagnostic tools and tests which may be used include:
- Blood work as well as biopsies so that the lab can examine the tissue and look for specific tumor markers, like CA125, Beta-hCG, CEA, Inhibin A and B, AFP, and LDH
- Ultrasound of abdomen or pelvis
- Colonoscopy or barium enema to rule out colon cancer
- Mammogram to rule out breast cancer
- CT or PET-CT scans
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