Know the Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

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September 14, 2016
woman with abdominal pain

Nearly 22,280 women are expected to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year. Unfortunately, because most ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage when the disease has already spread beyond the ovaries, nearly 14,240 will lose their lives. Ovarian cancer accounts for five percent of cancer deaths among women. 

The five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer, if caught in early (stage one), is a promising 92 percent. If detected in an advanced stage (stage three or four), that survival rate drops to just 27 percent. Currently, there is no dependable screening for ovarian cancer, but because early diagnosis is so important, women should be aware of the risk factors and symptoms and consult their healthcare provider if they are at risk or notice any changes that may be signs of the disease.

Factors that may increase the likelihood of developing ovarian cancer include:

  • Age – most ovarian cancers develop after menopause, and half of all ovarian cancers are found in women over the age of 63
  • Obesity – a study by the American Cancer Society found a higher rate of death from ovarian cancer in obese women
  • Reproductive history – women who started menstruating before age 12, had no children or had their first child after age 30, and/or experienced menopause after age 50 may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer
  • Fertility drugs – prolonged use of the fertility drug clomiphene citrate, especially without achieving pregnancy may increase the risk for developing ovarian tumors
  • Family history – a woman’s chance of developing ovarian cancer is increased if her mother, sister or daughter had ovarian, breast or colorectal cancer
  • Breast cancer – women with BRCA mutation have an increased risk of ovarian cancer
  • Talcum powder – women who use talc in the genital area may have a slight increase in risk
  • Estrogen or hormone replacement therapy – some studies suggest using estrogen replacement therapy may increase a woman’s risk of developing the disease
  • Smoking and Alcohol use – Some studies have found an increased risk for one type of ovarian cancer (mucinous).

Factors that may decrease the likelihood of developing ovarian cancer include:

  • Gynecologic Surgery – Having your “tubes tied” (tubal ligation) may reduce the chance of developing ovarian cancer. A hysterectomy (removal of the uterus without removing the ovaries) also seems to reduce the risk of getting ovarian cancer.
  • Diet – A recent study of women who followed a low-fat diet for at least 4 years had a lower risk of ovarian cancer. Some studies have shown a reduced rate of ovarian cancer in women who ate a diet high in vegetables, but other studies disagree.

While early cancer of the ovaries tends to cause symptoms that are relatively vague, women who experience any of these symptoms should consult their healthcare providers:

  • abnormal swelling of the stomach
  • unusual vaginal bleeding
  • pelvic pressure
  • back pain
  • leg pain
  • digestive problems such as gas, bloating, indigestion, or long term stomach pain
  • trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • having to urinate often or feeling like you have to “go” right away

In addition to being aware of the risk factors and symptoms of ovarian cancer, Arizona Oncology reminds all women to speak with their healthcare providers about this disease and have an annual vaginal exam beginning at age 18.

Arizona Oncology is proud to help Arizona patients in their battle against ovarian cancer by providing easy access a full range of advanced cancer care services. Our medical and radiation oncologists and their staff offer chemotherapy, injections, infusion services, radiation therapy and diagnostic imaging services in a convenient location that allows patients to remain close to their homes and support network of family and friends. As a result, patients have access the best possible treatment with the least amount of disruption to their daily lives. 

Our affiliation with The US Oncology Network, one of the nation’s foremost cancer treatment and research networks, allows us to enhance access to the latest advances in therapies, clinical research and technology to patients in our community.