September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The subject of ovarian cancer was brought home to me this year when my 37-year-old niece was diagnosed with it.
She was much younger than the average person with ovarian cancer, and she had a type of tumor called clear-cell carcinoma, which is one of the most rare but still potentially deadly forms.
Fortunately, her symptoms prompted a timely discovery and successful treatment. She now has an excellent prognosis for a full recovery.
Her story has encouraged me to write this article about ovarian cancer in the hope that any woman who reads this will understand the symptoms and risks of this disease.
Each year in the United States, more than 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It has been referred to as the “silent killer” because it usually isn’t found until it has spread to other areas of the body. Only about 20 percent of ovarian cancers are found before they spread beyond the ovaries.
Early detection is of utmost importance — survival is greatest if the cancer is found early. Women who are diagnosed in the earliest stages have a favorable survival rate, which is very encouraging.
Here are some common risk factors:
- Family history of ovarian cancer, especially in a mother or sister
- Family history of breast or colon cancer, or a previous diagnosis of either of these cancers
- Never having had children
- Being older than 50
- Having taken certain fertility drugs
- Certain inherited breast cancer genes, although not common, have a high association with ovarian cancer
- Abdominal fullness, pressure, bloating or swelling
- Frequent urination
- Discomfort or pain in the pelvic area
- Persistent indigestion, nausea or gas
- An unexplained change in bowel habits, especially constipation
- Unexplained sudden weight gain or loss
And the most common symptoms:
Knowing what my niece went through, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of seeing your doctor if you have bloating, pressure or swelling of your abdomen or pelvis that lasts more than a few weeks. Her quick diagnosis saved her life.
If you’ve seen your doctor for these symptoms and have received a diagnosis other than ovarian cancer and your symptoms don’t improve from the recommended treatment, see your doctor again or get a second opinion.
Make sure that a pelvic exam is performed as well as an ultrasound if you and your doctor suspect it might be ovarian cancer.
Again, an early diagnosis of ovarian cancer will increase your odds of survival. You must not wait more than a few weeks to see your doctor if you have any of the above symptoms, and even more so if you also have any of the known risk factors.
Expect your doctor to consider the possibility of ovarian cancer and to perform or order the appropriate tests.