How much do you know about ovarian cancer? If you’re like most people who have ovaries, you probably aren’t as aware of it as you should be.
For example, you may not know that:
- It’s the second most common gynecologic cancer in the United States (the first is uterine cancer), and it’s the most deadly.
- There are many different types of ovarian cancer. Some are more common than others, and some are harder to treat than others.
- Ovarian cancer is most common in people between the ages of 55 and 64, but people as young as under 20 years of age can get it.
- Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer-related death among women, killing about 13,000 Americans every year.
- Non-Hispanic Black women are least likely to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but most likely to die from it.
A lack of awareness can be dangerous. My hope is that this blog post will put ovarian cancer on more people’s radar and help prevent some of the devastating impact it can have.
Know the Signs of Ovarian Cancer
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are quite vague, so it’s easy to dismiss them as something that’s not at all serious. They include:
- Bloating, upset stomach, belly pain
- Being unusually tired
- Back pain
- Pain during sex
- Changes in your menstrual cycle
Any of these symptoms could have a handful of different explanations, and most of them are not very serious. So it’s understandable if people don’t go see a doctor right away.
But, for this reason, 70 – 80 percent of people with ovarian cancer don’t get diagnosed until they’re at stage III or IV — meaning the cancer has started spreading to other parts of their bodies. At that point, treatment is much more difficult and the prognosis is not as good.
So, what can you do to improve your chances of getting an early diagnosis?
1. See Your Gynecologist Once a Year
A lot of people aren’t very good at making and keeping their annual gynecologist appointments. They’ll just go if they get pregnant, or if something’s obviously wrong. But those annual checkups are a necessity. They help catch reproductive health problems, including gynecologic cancers like cervical cancer, at an early stage.
Your gynecologist will ask you general questions about your health, listening for any symptoms that might suggest a reproductive health problem. They can also check for growths and abnormalities in your uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and pelvis by using their hands for an abdominal exam.
If your gynecologist suspects that you might have ovarian cancer, they can get a clearer idea by doing an abdominal ultrasound, then order a blood test that will help confirm the diagnosis.
2. Go See Your Gynecologist if Something Seems Wrong
I can’t emphasize this enough. I’ve told you how non-specific the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be. So, don’t wait until you see some kind of enormous red flag! If something seems “off,” make a gynecologist appointment right away.
I know you’re busy. I know it’s inconvenient. I know you don’t want to be a bother to anyone. But your health comes first! Waiting until a problem gets much, much worse is just a terrible idea.
3. Talk to Your Gynecologist About Your Ovarian Cancer Risk
Ovarian cancer tends to run in families. You’re much more likely to get it if your mother, sister, or daughter has it or had it in the past. Other risk factors include:
- Being 64 years old or older
- Being overweight or obese
- Having children late in life, or never having had a full-term pregnancy
- Having the same BRCA1or BRCA2 gene mutations that can cause certain types of breast cancer, or having other family cancer syndromes
Discuss your family medical history with your gynecologist. Together, you can get a sense of your risk of getting ovarian cancer. If you’re at high risk, your gynecologist should check for it especially carefully at every annual checkup.
4. Help Spread the Word
Talk to your family members, loved ones, and friends about ovarian cancer. Tell them what you learned in this blog. Share my ovarian cancer video on social media.
Together, we can help spread awareness of this disease, and hopefully save some lives.