Susan (Sue) Cesareo, 73, was a happily retired school nurse, until suddenly she was a woman with what she called a “devastating diagnosis”. Sue had advanced-stage ovarian cancer.
Now, nearly three years since her diagnosis, Sue is cancer-free and continuing maintenance treatment with an oral chemotherapy. Most recently, she was excited to resume volunteering at Danbury Hospital.
Sue said her diagnosis was shocking because she did not have known risk factors for ovarian cancer and did not have worrisome symptoms. She only felt what she called a “twinge” in her lower left abdomen about once per day that she thought was a pulled muscle. Sue decided to see her doctor when the feeling persisted for about a month, even though it was not debilitating or interfering with any of her normal activities.
“I encourage you to report anything unusual to your doctor, and not to be afraid to ask your doctor for tests that may be appropriate for you,” said Sue, a registered nurse with 28 years of nursing experience.
“I think it is common for women to get to 60-years old and think, ‘I do not need to continue routine wellness exams or screenings. I made it this long without any issues, and I am going to continue to be fine.’ It is important not to let your protective health down,” said Sue.
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer happens when abnormal cells grow out of control in the ovaries, fallopian tubes or peritoneum. Ovarian cancer can occur at any age but usually occurs when women are in their 50s and 60s. Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecologic cancer in the United States.
Related information: Nuvance Health shares more about ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other gynecologic cancer mainly because symptoms are similar to common health concerns such as constipation, and they usually occur when the disease has already advanced. Further, there is currently a lack of reliable screenings and early detection tests for ovarian cancer, unlike mammography for breast cancer or colonoscopy for colorectal cancer. That is why researchers at Nuvance Health are studying ways to develop a screening test for ovarian cancer.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Common ovarian cancer symptoms include:
- Back pain
- Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
- Menstrual changes
- Pain during sex
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Upset stomach or heartburn
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge
What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer?
Risk factors are conditions or habits that may increase your chances of getting a disease like cancer. Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:
- Age (getting older)
- Genetic predisposition such as BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation and Lynch syndrome
- Family history of breast, colorectal or ovarian cancer
- Personal history of:
- Endometriosis or breast, colon or uterine cancer
- Never giving birth, having trouble getting pregnant or having first full-term pregnancy after age 35
- Being overweight or obese
Are there ways to reduce my risk of ovarian cancer?
Having risk factors for ovarian cancer does not mean you will get the disease. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most women who get ovarian cancer are not at high risk. However, you may reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer by modifying risk factors you can change and talking with your healthcare provider.
Maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy diet and do not smoke
Maintaining a healthy weight may reduce your risk of ovarian cancer. Not smoking and eating a nutritious diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and fiber may reduce your risk of many types of cancer.
Talk with your healthcare provider about your personal and family history
Nuvance Health encourages you to speak with your primary care provider or gynecologist if you have a genetic predisposition, or family or personal health history that may increase your risk for ovarian cancer. Your healthcare provider may recommend consulting a genetic counselor, too.
Know your body and talk with your healthcare provider about unusual symptoms
Although ovarian cancer symptoms can be vague and mirror other benign conditions, Nuvance Health encourages you to speak with your healthcare provider if you have persistent symptoms that are not normal for you. It is worth a conversation with your healthcare provider to rule out anything that might be serious.
The bottom line: Take charge of your health by arming yourself with facts about ovarian cancer symptoms and risk factors. You may be able to reduce your risk of developing the disease by modifying risk factors you can change and talking with your healthcare provider. See your primary care provider or gynecologist if you are feeling differently or experiencing symptoms that are not normal for you.
The outcome of treatment for ovarian cancer varies from person to person. No individual results should be seen as typical.