Unlike cervical cancer, there is currently no reliable screening or early detection test for ovarian cancer — the second most common gynecologic cancer in the United States. That is why it is important to pay attention to your body and notice unusual and persistent symptoms.
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.
Thankfully, Pap smear and HPV tests can prevent cervical cancer, colonoscopy screenings can prevent colorectal cancer, and screening mammograms can detect breast cancer early. Yet, there are currently no such tests for ovarian cancer. That is why researchers at Nuvance Health are studying ways to develop screenings for ovarian cancer to detect it early before symptoms occur.
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
- Being overweight or obese
- 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
Are there ways to reduce my risk of ovarian cancer?
Having risk factors for ovarian cancer does not mean you will get the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most women who get ovarian cancer are not at high risk. However, you may be able to 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.
Learn more about gynecologic cancer care at Nuvance Health.