Mission Hope Cancer Center

Ovarian Cancer:
Get the Facts. Recognize the Signs.

Ovarian Cancer is one of the most deadly of women's cancers. In 2015, approximately 14,280 women will die in the United States from this disease. Many women don’t seek help until the disease has begun to spread; but if detected at its earliest stage, the five-year survival rate is more than 93%. The challenge is that the symptoms of ovarian cancer are often subtle and easily confused with ailments of less serious and more common health problems.

But we do know that ovarian cancer is NOT a silent disease. If you have the symptoms listed here—lasting more than two to three weeks—talk to your doctor to first rule out the more common causes of them. If there is no clear reason for your symptoms, however, your doctor needs to consider the possibility of ovarian cancer. This is the best chance for early detection. Unfortunately, there is no adequate screening test of ovarian cancer at this time which is one of the reasons that this cancer is often discovered in later stages. You are your best advocate.

Four common symptoms of ovarian cancer:

• Persistent abdominal bloating
• Pelvic or abdominal pain
• Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
• Urinary urgency or frequency
Other symptoms may include:
• Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation or diarrhea
• Extreme fatigue
• Shortness of breath
• Backaches
• Weight Gain

Be aware; but don’t worry yourself sick
Most women with the above symptoms will not have ovarian cancer. Your doctor should first rule out more common causes of these symptoms, but if there is no clear reason for them, your doctor needs to consider the possibility of ovarian cancer.

Reducing your risk
While there is no proven screening method for early-stage ovarian cancer and detection is difficult, certain risk factors can increase a woman’s chance of developing the disease.

Risk factors for developing ovarian cancer
Age: Ovarian cancer is most common in women over age 50 and in women who have stopped menstruating (have been through menopause), and the risk increases with age. But ovarian cancer can affect women of all ages.

Genetics and family history: If a woman has two or more relatives from the same side of her family affected by ovarian, colorectal or breast cancer, her risk of developing ovarian cancer may be increased. This tends to be a result of an inherited faulty gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation) that increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer. Genetics and family history are responsible for at least 15% of ovarian cancers. Women who are descended from Ashkenazi Jewish populations are more likely to carry this faulty gene. All women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are recommended to consider genetic testing.

Child-bearing history: Women who have not had children, are unable to have children, have never used oral contraceptives or became pregnant over the age of 30, may be slightly more at risk. This is due to the ovaries not having a “rest” from the break and repair of the surface of the ovary when women ovulate each month.

Endometriosis: This condition is when the tissue lining the uterus (endometrium) is also found outside of the uterus.

Lifestyle factors: Examples include smoking tobacco, being overweight or eating a high fat diet.

Hormonal factors: Including early puberty (menstruating before age 12) or late menopause (onset after 50).