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What every woman should know about ovarian cancer



Fatigue, backache, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation - for many women these complaints are a part of everyday life. Throw in menstrual irregularities and increased urinary frequency, and you've got midlife covered, too. With such a common list of symptoms, 75 percent of ovarian tumors aren't discovered until they are well advanced, and an astounding 54 percent of women who develop the disease die within five years of diagnosis.

Although ovarian cancer is relatively rare - it strikes one in 55 women - the rates are inching up steadily, making it more important for women to become aware of its signs and risk factors.

Watch for signs, know the risks
Few women know the subtle signs of ovarian cancer or the factors that may raise or reduce risk.

Symptoms
Tell your doctor if you experience fatigue, lower-back ache, abdominal pain, bloating, gas or constipation that persists for more than a few weeks or gradually worsens. Other warning signs: missed periods or irregular bleeding (especially after menopause), increased urinary frequency, waistbands that suddenly become too tight, a feeling of hardness in your belly, or being full after eating only a little food.

Increases risk

  • Age. Peak time of diagnosis is from 75 to 79.
  • Family history. Having a sister or mother with ovarian cancer increases your risk three to five times.
  • Infertility. Infertility and use of certain fertility drugs have been linked with increased risk.

Lowers risk

  • Pregnancy. Having one or more children, particularly if the first child is born before age 30, plus breast feeding, may reduce a woman's risk.
  • Use of oral contraceptives. Being on the Pill for a total of five years (does not have to be in a row) can lower your risk by as much as 60 percent.
  • Removal of the ovaries. This procedure, often done during a hysterectomy, reduces your risk significantly, although ovarian-type tumors sometimes occur elsewhere in the abdomen.

Take control
As it stands now, ovarian cancer gets diagnosed late, but there are a few steps you can take to ensure that the disease is detected earlier.

  • Get a pelvic exam. Make sure your doctor does a bimanual rectovaginal pelvic exam during every routine gynecological visit.
  • Tune in to the symptoms. Ovarian cancer's warning signs may seem run-of-the-mill but should not be ignored. Talk to your doctor if you have any of the symptoms.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of new cancer cases in women.

The Baptist Health Cancer Resource Center offers a wealth of information on cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment. The Cancer Resource Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To reach the center, call (502) 896-3009 or fax (502) 896-3010. The Cancer Resource Center is a service of Baptist Health Cancer Care.