Would You Recognize the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
September 02, 2017
Submitted by Becky Powell MS, RN, AOCN, Health Educator, Community Cancer Center
Bloating, abdominal pain, trouble eating, getting full quickly, the need to urinate frequently, fatigue, and constipation that last for more than two weeks are just a few of the symptoms that are associated with ovarian cancer. The American Cancer Society predicts that 22,440 women, or one in 75, will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2017.
Like most cancers, there are certain factors that increase a woman’s risk for this disease:
- Getting older
- Being overweight
- Using talcum powder directly to the genital area was found to increase the risk of ovarian cancer in several studies. However, more research is needed.
- Having a family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer or colorectal cancer. There are several genetic syndromes that increase the risk for ovarian cancer.
A major concern with ovarian cancer is that the symptoms are often silent and don’t necessarily develop until the cancer has grown or become more advanced. Another concern is that, currently, there is not a screening test recommended for use in all women. An effective screening test is used to detect a cancer before symptoms develop. For example, a mammogram is a good screening test for breast cancer because it can find cancer before symptoms like a lump have developed. Ovarian cancer currently does not have a test like that and is one reason why the cancer is frequently not found until it has progressed to a more advanced stage. There are, however, a variety of tests used to help diagnose ovarian cancer or screen women at high risk for the disease:
- Abdominal-pelvic exam. A pap-test might be done during the pelvic exam, but it is not used to diagnose ovarian cancer. It is used to help find concerns with the cervix.
- Transvaginal ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of the ovaries to help identify any changes or concerns.
- CA-125 blood test. This test measures the amount of CA-125 in the blood stream, which is generally high in women with ovarian cancer. Other conditions such as pelvic inflammation and uterine fibroids may cause an increase in the CA-125 level. Because of this, the CA-125 test is not an accurate screening test for ovarian cancer.
- Computed tomography or CT scan uses x-ray pictures from different angles to show problems/concerns with the ovaries.
While these tests can help determine an abnormality in the ovaries, a biopsy, which removes a small amount of tissue from the ovaries, is needed to diagnose ovarian cancer.
So, what should you do? Educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, get a pelvic exam, maintain a healthy weight, and learn about your family history of cancer. Listen to your body, and if symptoms are new and/or persist for two weeks or more after normal interventions, see your doctor. Researchers are testing new ways to screen women for ovarian cancer, but until that is found, women must pay attention.
September is ovarian cancer awareness month, which brings much-needed awareness to this disease. For more information, go to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition website at www.ovarian.org or contact the Community Cancer Center at 309-451-8500. The Community Cancer Center offers a variety of supportive and educational groups and programs, free of charge, to help patients and families cope with cancer and its effects. For more information go to their website at www.cancercenter.org.
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