How Common is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is the 11th most common cancer among women in the United States, with 22,530 estimated new cases diagnosed in the US in 2019.
How Serious is Ovarian Cancer?
The American Cancer Society ranks ovarian cancer as the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths. The disease accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Approximately 13,980 women in the US will die from the disease in 2019.
What’s a Woman’s Risk of Developing Ovarian Cancer?
On average, a woman has a 1 in 78 risk of developing ovarian cancer over the course of her life. Older age, family history, certain genetic mutations, and other factors increase a woman’s individual risk.
What are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
Most women are more likely to have noticeable symptoms for Ovarian Cancer in more advanced stages, but symptoms can also be present in early-stage ovarian cancer as well. Symptoms may include:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Trouble eating
- Frequent or urgent need to urinate
- Upset stomach/ heartburn
- Back pain
- Pain during intercourse
- Menstrual changes
It’s important to note that many of these symptoms can also be attributed to non-cancerous conditions. The nonspecific nature of these symptoms makes it easy to miss a developing cancer. If you experience any of these symptoms for longer than two weeks, report them to your doctor or gynecologist immediately.
Can Ovarian Cancer be Prevented?
At present, there is no way to completely prevent ovarian cancer. Certain factors, however, reduce your risk of the disease, including:
- Taking oral contraceptives for at least five years appears to lower ovarian cancer risk by approximately 50%
- Delivering first child prior to age 25 and breastfeeding appear to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer
- Tubal ligation and hysterectomies may reduce the risk, though are not indicated to be performed exclusively as a risk reduction strategy
- Prophylactic removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes is the most effective way to reduce ovarian cancer risk
In the event that you are found to be at an increased risk for developing ovarian cancer, it is important that you discuss these and other options with a healthcare provider.
Can I Still Get Ovarian Cancer if I Have My Ovaries Removed?
If a patient has risk-reducing surgery, such as a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, the likelihood of her getting cancer is greatly reduced but not eliminated. Some women at particularly high risk, such as those with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation, could already have an undiagnosed cancer present prior to getting their ovaries or fallopian tubes removed; and women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation are also at a higher risk for primary peritoneal cancer, which is similar to ovarian cancer. The risk of developing primary peritoneal cancer after the ovaries and fallopian tubes have been removed is very low but can still develop.
Do Ovarian Cysts Cause Ovarian Cancer?
Most ovarian cysts are benign, and many resolve on their own. However, since a small percent of them could be cancer, they require evaluation and diagnostic work-up.
Does a Link Exist between Ovarian and Breast Cancer?
Yes. The presence of hereditary mutations in genes, such as in BRCA1 and BRCA2, increases the risk for both breast and ovarian cancer. Also, women who have a personal or family history of breast cancer have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Is Ovarian Cancer Hereditary?
Twenty to twenty-five percent of ovarian cancers have an associated inherited genetic mutation, most common are mutations in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. A family history of breast or ovarian cancer suggests you may benefit from genetic testing to evaluate your hereditary risk for developing cancer.
What Are My Treatment Options?
Surgical removal of the tumor and affected surrounding organs and tissues is the most common initial treatment for ovarian cancer. This is oftentimes followed by chemotherapy and other systemic treatments, depending on stage. There have been exciting advancements in the treatment of ovarian cancer in recent years offering hope to those diagnosed with this disease.
This blog was written by an employee of Myriad Women’s Health, Inc., a provider of genetic testing solutions.
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