Ovarian cancer is known as a “disease that whispers” because, while symptoms do exist, they’re often vague and mimic other conditions.
According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, ovarian cancer is the leading cause of gynecological cancer-related deaths among women between the ages of 35 and 74. It’s known as a “disease that whispers” because, while symptoms do exist, they’re often vague and mimic other conditions.
Knowing your risk factors, and understanding the signs and symptoms of the disease, can help women reduce risk and improve their chances for survival.
Learn the signs and symptoms
The best way to defend yourself
With cancer, early detection is paramount to saving lives, and awareness is one of the most important factors in this. Because ovarian cancer’s symptoms can be hard to detect, it’s important to pay attention to your body, know the signs and symptoms, and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer, as determined by a study funded by the Rivkin Center, are:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
Less commonly, some women also experience these symptoms:
- Lack of energy
- Vaginal bleeding
- Nausea, diarrhea
If you notice symptoms, take action immediately
These could be symptoms of ovarian cancer, or they could be caused by other, less serious conditions. If you notice these potential ovarian cancer symptoms-especially several at once-and they persist for two to three weeks, it’s extremely important to check with your doctor or gynecologist. Remember: early detection is key in the fight against ovarian cancer.
What happens next?
Tests for ovarian cancers include combination pelvic/rectal exam, CA 125 blood test, and a transvaginal ultrasound. A Pap smear is not a test for ovarian cancer. The Mayo Clinic offers a description of the various tests performed in diagnosing ovarian cancer.
If you or your doctor suspect ovarian cancer, consult a gynecologic oncologist.
Are you at risk?
Know the risk factors for ovarian cancer
Although there’s no way to know who will get ovarian cancer, some women are at higher risk, often related to their genetic makeup and family background. Knowing risk factors can help you become more aware of your personal health and be alert for possible signs and symptoms of the disease. Here are some excellent resources:
- For starters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a basic list of risk factors
- For more complete information, try the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the United States government’s principal agency for cancer research. Their website, cancer.gov, provides a wealth of information, including this comprehensive list of risk factors for ovarian cancer.
Understand the types and stages of ovarian cancer
Learn about the specific pathologies and stages
There are many respectable organizations that provide information about and support for people who have ovarian cancer. We recommend these as references for learning more about the disease.
Types of ovarian cancer
“Ovarian cancer” is an umbrella term for several different types of cancer. These resources can help you understand the distinctions.
- The Foundation for Women’s Cancer offers a simple description of the subtypes, or pathology, of ovarian cancer.
- The National Cancer Institute offers a thorough description of various types of ovarian cancer.
- Learn about ovarian epithelial, Fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancer
- Learn about ovarian germ cell tumors
- Learn about ovarian low malignant potential tumors
Stages of ovarian cancer
Describing cancer in stages provides a framework for understanding how widely it has spread throughout the body. These are good resources for understanding staging and the details of each stage of ovarian cancer:
- The Foundation for Women’s Cancer provides a clear explanation of “staging,” which sets standards of description for the extent to which ovarian cancer has spread through a woman’s body.
- The American Cancer Society offers a more in-depth look at how cancer is staged and describes the stages of ovarian cancer in detail.
UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) reported results of its 14 year-long study, which showed that ovarian cancer screening may reduce ovarian cancer mortality by up to 20%.
Ovarian cancer, the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers, has provided a significant challenge for the scientific community. While survival rates for other women’s cancers—like breast and cervical cancer—have increased dramatically of late, the incidence and mortality of ovarian cancer have changed only incrementally over the past 50 years. This is primarily due to the lack of an accurate early detection test for the disease.
When caught in its earliest stages, ovarian cancer survival rates can be as high as 90%. But early symptoms of ovarian cancer are difficult to diagnose, are often misdiagnosed, or go undetected. This means nearly 75% of all ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed in advanced stages.
Some other important figures:
- Seven in ten women die within five years of diagnosis
- Long-term disease-free survival rate for advanced ovarian cancer: 10%
- A woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer every 3½ hours
- Approximately $2.2 billion is spent annually in the U.S. on treatment for ovarian cancer
- In Washington state, a woman dies every day of ovarian cancer
Take the next step with us
Whatever the reason for your interest in ovarian cancer
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, we have both important resources and heartfelt compassion to share with you.
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