Understanding Ovarian Cancer
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Ovarian cancer is the number one cause of female reproductive tract cancer-related deaths in women in the United States. It is the number seven cause of cancer-related deaths in women across the globe. Although not the leading cause of cancer in general in women, ovarian cancer is typically diagnosed at a later stage, making it very difficult to cure and leading to a high mortality rate. Unfortunately, there is not an effective and uniformly reliable preventive screening test available at this time to help identify cases of ovarian cancer at an early stage, making early diagnosis challenging.
Cooper Clinic Platinum Physician Emily Hebert, MD, sheds light on the disease, and offers advice for women when it comes to monitoring their health and knowing their bodies.
Who is at risk for developing ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is most often seen in post-menopausal women over the age of 50. There are occasional cases of ovarian cancer found in pre-menopausal women. “The most common forms of ovarian cancer are sporadic, which means they happen in women with no family history of the disease,” says Dr. Hebert. “If there is a family history, the risk of developing the disease increases depending on the details of that specific family history.” If specific genetic mutations are the cause of ovarian cancer developing within the same family, there is a higher risk of developing the disease. But if ovarian cancer is sporadic within the family and lacks a shared genetic disposition, the risk of development becomes lower.
Dr. Hebert notes that women who have a low risk of developing ovarian cancer need not go through special screening if they are without symptoms, but this is always a conversation that should be had with your doctor to discuss the risks and benefits of screening.
Can anything lower the risk of developing ovarian cancer?
Studies have shown that women who have given birth have less of a risk of developing ovarian cancer. Additionally, research indicates using oral contraceptives as young women can decrease the risk of developing ovarian cancer later in life. “The less you ovulate, the less likely you are to develop the cancer because there is a smaller opportunity for cells to become mutated and potentially cancerous,” explains Dr. Hebert.
Some recent studies suggest women using estrogens after menopause have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. The risk seems to be higher in women taking estrogen alone for many years, typically greater than 5-10. The increased risk is less certain for women taking both estrogen and progesterone.
What should women be aware of when it comes to recognizing signs of ovarian cancer?
According to Dr. Hebert, the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are pelvic pain and bloating. Unfortunately, many women experience these symptoms due to various reasons at many stages in life, which is why they can oftentimes be overlooked or mistaken for a more common issue or minor discomfort. Some women might experience abnormal vaginal bleeding or general pain.
“The most important thing women can do when it comes to preventing ovarian cancer and detecting it early is to know your body and know your family history,” says Dr. Hebert. “Understand when something doesn’t feel right or has been going on for a long time, and if you have a family history of ovarian cancer, make sure to keep regularly scheduled doctors appointments and be aware of your increased risk of developing the disease.”
Women should also be sure to see their OB/GYN physicians or general doctors regularly, and work toward being in an overall state of good health and fitness. Though Dr. Hebert notes that researchers are working to develop a preventive screening process, she explains that knowing yourself and your body is key to recognizing when a problem arises.
For more information about Cooper Clinic and Cooper Clinic Platinum, visit cooper-clinic.com or call 972.560.2667.
Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications.