As the year continues on and schedules get busier, scheduling a wellness exam may be the last thing on your mind. What if we told you that your yearly exam can help save your life? That exam is a time for your provider to check for abnormalities such as ovarian cancer. According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other gynecological cancer. However, the five-year survival rate is over 90% when ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated in its earliest stages.
What is ovarian cancer?
Your ovaries are organs located on the side of the uterus and store eggs and produce estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer is when cancerous cells develop in, near or on the outer layer of one or both ovaries. The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition explains that cancer cells differ from normal health cells because they:
- Grow uncontrollably, dividing into new abnormal cells
- Outlive normal cells
- Lead to the growth of a tumor; this can put pressure on nearby organs
- Can metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system
What are the symptoms?
According to Mayo Clinic, early-stage ovarian cancer rarely causes any symptoms. As the cancer progresses to advanced-stages, the symptoms can be nonspecific and are often mistaken for more common benign conditions:
- Abdominal bloating or swelling
- Quickly feeling full when eating
- Weight loss
- Discomfort in the pelvis area
- Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
- A frequent need to urinate
Because this cancer has a higher survival rate when diagnosed early but doesn’t show symptoms in the early stages, it’s especially important to have regular exams with your provider. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer, talk to your provider about a higher risk and potential testing for certain gene mutations that increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Who is at risk?
Being a woman puts you at risk of developing ovarian cancer. However, there are other factors to be aware of that can increase your chances of getting it:
- A family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer or colorectal cancer
- A personal history of breast cancer
- Fertility treatment
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Childbirth later in life or never having a full-term pregnancy
While these factors may increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer, they don’t necessarily mean that one will get the disease. It’s important to be aware of these increased risk factors, so you and your provider can monitor your symptoms more closely.
What are the types of ovarian cancer?
There are three types of ovarian cancer, and the type of cell where the cancer begins is the determining factor. Mayo Clinic explains the three types:
- Epithelial tumors. Begin in the thin layer of tissue that covers the outside of the ovaries. About 90 percent of ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors.
- Stromal tumors. Begin in the ovarian tissue that contains hormone producing cells. These tumors are usually diagnosed at an earlier stage than other ovarian tumors. About seven percent of ovarian tumors are stromal.
- Germ cell tumors. Begin in the egg-producing cells. These rare ovarian cancers tend to occur in younger women.
Ovarian cancer is just one abnormality that can be discovered in a yearly wellness exam. No matter how busy your schedule is, prioritizing your health now can help you in the future. If you suspect your symptoms are something bigger or you have more questions about ovarian cancer, schedule an appointment with your provider. At Southdale ObGyn we offer yearly exams and cancer screenings to help our patients stay on top of their health.