Some of us have watched someone we love fight through cancer, and others of us have had to face the disease ourselves. I am in that first group, having watched my mom battle breast cancer, and even though I have not experienced cancer first-hand, it is a word that still stops me in my tracks when I hear it. But knowledge is key when it comes to identifying and managing our risk for all cancers, and ovarian cancer is one that many of us may know less about than we should.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. While only accounting for about 3% of cancers in women, ovarian cancer is still the most deadly of all female reproductive system cancers. It is very important as women that we understand the disease as best we can, and raise awareness not only for ourselves, but for the other women in our lives and community.
Know the Signs and Symptoms
There is no full-proof test for diagnosing ovarian cancer, which is one of the reasons it is so dangerous. It is very important to know that a Pap test does not detect ovarian cancer. Here are some of the signs and symptoms to be aware of, and obviously discuss with our doctors if the symptoms appear and persist for more than two weeks.
- Abdominal bloating
- Pain in your abdomen or pelvis
- Trouble eating, or feeling full quickly
- Feeling the urgent need to urinate, or having the need to urinate often
- Other symptoms may include fatigue, upset stomach, back pain, pain during sex, constipation, or menstrual changes
There are certain risk factors that may impact some women’s chances of developing cancer more than others. Anyone who has one or more risk factors should be particularly vigilant in watching for signs, but all of us can benefit from being mindful of any symptoms or signs of ovarian cancer, and discuss with our doctor.
- Risk increases as we age. Most cases develop after menopause, and half occur in women over 63. Risk in women under 40 is low, but it is still important to pay attention to changes in your body that may be signs of the disease.
- Weight plays a role in the risk of ovarian cancer as well. The risk of developing the disease is higher in women who are obese.
- Genetics are a factor in the risk of ovarian cancer. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic test can help determine if you are genetically predisposed to ovarian cancer. I have undergone this test myself, and it is something your doctor can arrange if it is something he or she feels may be necessary.
- If you have a family history of breast, ovarian, or colon cancer, you may have a greater risk of developing ovarian cancer. Your family history can be a factor in determining whether or not genetic counseling and testing is a good option for you.
- Infertility can also increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer.
If you are interested in learning more about ovarian cancer, or supporting and honoring those affected, The Ovarian Cancer Coalition of Central South Carolina will hold it’s annual awareness event, 2016 Whispers Butterfly Release, to remember and honor women affected by not only ovarian cancer, but other female specific cancers as well. The event takes place at the State House at 5:30 pm on September 15th.
The most important things we can do are to pay attention to symptoms, and listen to what our bodies may be trying to tell us. We have to be our best advocates, and never hesitate to bring our concerns to our doctors. The more we are aware of the risks and symptoms of ovarian cancer, the better equipped we are to protect ourselves and each other.