Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer Saves Lives
According to American Cancer Society statistics, a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer during her lifetime is 1 in 75. In addition, it is estimated that ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cause of cancer in women in the United States. Yet when found and treated in its early stages, ovarian cancer can be cured in about 90% of cases.
When found and treated in its early stages, ovarian cancer can be cured in about 90% of the cases.
“In its early stages, ovarian cancer can be hard to detect,” explains Teresa Hubka, DO, an osteopathic obstetrician and gynecological surgeon. “Therefore, it is imperative that women learn more about ovarian cancer and its symptoms to prevent the spread of the disease to other parts of the body.”
Who is at Risk of Ovarian Cancer?
According to Dr. Hubka, women who have a family history of the disease or genetic predisposition to breast cancer or colorectal cancer; have never been pregnant or gave birth after age 30; and are between 55-64 years old are most at risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Other risk factors include obesity, menopausal use of estrogen for five or more years, or use of infertility drugs (such as Clomid®) without achieving pregnancy.
On the flip side, women who have given birth; who breastfed; who use oral contraceptives (birth control pills) for three or more years; or who had surgical procedures of tubal ligation or hysterectomy (with or without removal of ovaries) are less likely to develop ovarian cancer.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Dr. Hubka says that symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
- Discomfort in the lower abdomen
- Swelling or bloating in the lower abdomen
- Swelling in the legs
- Feeling full even after a light meal
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
- Frequent urination
- Pain during sexual intercourse
“Clearly, many of the symptoms of ovarian cancer can also be associated with other medical conditions,” says Dr. Hubka. “When a woman is experiencing any of the common symptoms for two or more weeks, one of the best ways to rule out ovarian cancer is through a pelvic exam.”
Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer
During the exam, the physician will feel for enlarged ovaries or masses by inserting two gloved fingers into the vagina and simultaneously feeling outside of the abdomen with the other hand.
Enlarged ovaries or masses may often be telltale signs of cancer. If the clinician has a high index of suspicion of ovarian cancer, screening tests, which include trans-vaginal ultrasound and a CA-125 blood test may be performed. However, these tests are screening tests and do not confirm the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. The only way to confirm a diagnosis would be through surgery and biopsy.
3 Ways to Lower Your Risk
In addition to an annual pelvic exam, osteopathic physicians suggest the following ways women can lessen their risk of developing ovarian cancer:
- Reporting any irregular menstrual cycles or bleeding between periods.
- Discussing risk factors with your physician if you have close family member such as your mother, sister or daughter, who has been diagnosed with ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer.
- Eating a low-fat diet which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil.
Focusing on preventive care, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to consider how environmental and lifestyle factors impact your health. They are trained to listen and partner with you to help you not only get healthy, but stay well.