September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month! Ovarian cancer is the 5th leading cause of cancer deaths among women in America. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer in her lifetime is 1 in 75. It is known as the “silent killer” simply because many women experience mild, vague symptoms, or no symptoms at all.
Some common symptoms include:
- abdominal fullness (“hard belly”) and bloating, with or without weight loss
- pelvic or abdominal pain
- feeling full quickly or trouble eating
- urinary urgency (always feeling like you have to go) or frequency (having to go often)
- pain during sex
Because the symptoms of ovarian cancer are so vague, they can be easily missed by you and your doctor. This cancer is usually not found until it is stage 3 or 4, which means that it has significantly progressed and spread to other organs. The best way to detect ovarian cancer as early as possible is to be aware of your own body! Know how full you normally get after meals, notice how much food you usually eat at each meal, and do not be afraid to voice your concerns to your doctor.
Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:
- increasing age
- estrogen or hormone therapy
- family history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer
- personal history of breast cancer
Some factors have shown to be protective against the development of ovarian cancer, such as:
- the use of birth control pills
- full term pregnancies before age 26
- multiple pregnancies
- breast feeding
- tubal ligation or hysterectomy (these operations should only be done for valid medical reasons)
It is very important for all women to know the symptoms and risk factors for ovarian cancer, and to visit their gynecologist at least once a year. Be your own advocate! If you or a woman you know has been experiencing any of the above symptoms or is just not feeling right, consult your doctor! Ovarian cancer is a serious diagnosis that we all need to be aware of. Do not be afraid of the diagnosis; instead, diagnose it early and combat it head‐on with your doctor.