September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month! Here are some facts about Ovarian Cancer and tips on what you can do to assess your risk for developing this disease.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among women, accounting for 15,000 deaths annually. It’s estimated that 1 in 75 women will develop ovarian cancer. Although only 19 percent are discovered at an early stage, the five year survival rate at this point is over 90 percent.
Early detection is key!
Since most women only see their gynecologist annually, it’s paramount that women be aware of their risks and alert their physician of any changes in their body.
Risk factors include:
- Genetic predisposition (BRCA 1 or 2)
- Personal or family history of breast/ovarian/colon cancer
- Increased age (over 55)
- Infertility or never having had children
Symptoms are typically vague but include:
- GI issues (bloating/constipation)
- Unexplained abdominal or pelvic pain
- Difficulty eating or early satiety
- Urinary frequency or urgency
- Pain with intercourse
If you are experiencing these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you have ovarian cancer! However, if they persist beyond 2 weeks, an evaluation by your gynecologist is recommended.
Unfortunately, there are no good screening tests for ovarian cancer. Many women ask for a CA 125 level. This is an inflammatory marker in the blood that has been found to be useful in monitoring ovarian cancer treatment but NOT for diagnosis. It can be elevated for a variety of reasons including menstruation, endometriosis or fibroids.
Thus, a typical evaluation includes a thorough history, physical examination and a radiographic evaluation (usually a transvaginal sonogram). If an ovarian mass is found, an OVA1 blood test is obtained. This is a biomarker panel used to assess the malignancy risk in a patient with an ovarian mass before surgery. Referral to a Gynecologic Oncologist may also be warranted.
Remember, discuss any concerns or significant history with your gynecologist!