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Ovarian Cancer: Risks and Symptoms

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Ovarian cancer is cancer that is located in the ovaries of women. In the United States, it is the eighth most common cancer, as well as the fifth leading cause of cancer death.

Ovarian cancer often goes undetected because the symptoms resemble conditions that many women experience every day. By the time it is typically caught, it is often in an advanced stage, making treatment more complex. Ovarian cancer is best treated when discovered at the earliest possible stage. This is why it’s important to understand the symptoms, however common, as well as the known risk factors.

Common symptoms associated with ovarian cancer include persistent or progressive:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Difficulty eating
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms

Other common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach, heartburn, gas, or nausea
  • Back pain
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Constipation, or unexplained changes in bowel habits or diarrhea
  • Unexplained weight loss/gain

Certain risk factors for ovarian cancer include increasing age (the average age is 63), having a personal or family history of breast, ovarian, or colon cancer, and women with an Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish background.

Hereditary risk factors for ovarian cancer include a history of breast, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and colorectal cancer in multiple relatives including parents, siblings, children, grandparents, and grandchildren. Genetic mutations BRCA1 or BRCA2 as well as mutation associated with Lynch Syndrome are also considered hereditary risk factors.

Other factors include:

  • Never given birth, or issues with getting pregnant
  • Endometriosis
  • Estrogen Replacement for more than 10 years

While there is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, women who have given birth or have used birth control for 5+ years, undergone tubal ligation, hysterectomy, and/ or surgery to remove ovaries, or breastfed are shown to be at reduced risk.

The best approach is to be proactive with your health: speak to your doctor if you feel you are at risk for developing ovarian cancer, or if you notice any sudden changes in your health that mirror the common symptoms outlined above.

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