What Every Woman Needs to Know About Ovarian Cancer

Rates of ovarian cancer diagnoses have fallen over the past 20 years, but it’s still the most deadly cancer of the female reproductive system. The disease is expected to kill nearly 14,000 women this year, while more than 22,000 will receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis.

woman consults with her gynecologist in the gynecologist's office

But it doesn’t affect all age groups the same. Ovarian cancer is most common among women between the ages of 50 and 60, and rare among women who are under 40. Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Bloating
  • Feeling full quickly or having trouble eating
  • Pelvic and/or abdominal pain
  • Frequent need to urinate

The American Cancer Society explains that these symptoms often appear for reasons aside from ovarian cancer, but that when caused by ovarian cancer they will be persistent (such as more than 12 times each month) and also outside of the norm for you. Other ovarian cancer symptoms include back pain, fatigue, pain during sexual intercourse, abnormal vaginal bleeding (especially after menopause), abnormal vaginal discharge, constipation, upset stomach, and menstrual cycle changes.

Researchers don’t fully know or understand what causes ovarian cancer, but they do know some of the risk factors associated with it. These include: aging, being obese or overweight, having your first full-term pregnancy after age 35, never having a full-term pregnancy, having in vitro fertilization (IVF), inherited gene mutations, taking estrogen after menopause, and a family history of ovarian cancer. But it’s important to understand that the presence of these risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll get the disease, nor do these risk factors need to be present in order for someone to get the disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, around 94% of patients with ovarian cancer live more than five years after being diagnosed if the diagnosis is made early, yet only around 20% of ovarian cancers are detected at an early stage. Most of the time, ovarian cancer isn’t detected until it’s spread beyond the ovaries into the pelvis and abdomen—a point at which it’s more difficult to treat.

Some of the best ways to work toward early detection and treatment include: yearly women’s health exams that include a pelvic exam, screening tests if you’re a high risk patient for this illness, seeing a doctor if you experience the signs and symptoms outlined above, and discussing your risk factors with a physician, particularly if you have a family history of ovarian and/or breast cancer.

Most ovarian cancer is treated with a combination of surgery (to remove the cancer tissue) and chemotherapy (to kill or shrink the cancer), but the specific treatment will vary from person to person according to their illness and the stage at which it was detected. If you have a family history of this illness, are experiencing any of its signs and symptoms, or have any concerns about ovarian cancer, it’s important to speak with a knowledgeable doctor.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

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