Straight, No Chaser: Ovarian Cancer


You are likely aware that the ovaries produce a women’s eggs as well as being the main source of the female’s sex hormones. Ovarian cancer is not the most common gynecological cancer. In fact, it only causes approximately 3% of cancers in women. However, it’s an important one to know because it causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. It is impossible to do justice to ovarian cancer in one blog, so this Straight, No Chaser will feature frequently asked questions on the topic.
How serious is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian Cancer_1in71women

Very. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), in 2014 the following is expected:

  • Approximately 21,980 new cases of ovarian cancer
  • Approximately 14,270 deaths from ovarian cancer

The lifetime risk of dying from invasive ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100.
Who is relatively more likely to obtain ovarian cancer?

  • Ovarian cancer is more common in whites than African-Americans.
  • Approximately half of those diagnosed are 63 years or older.

What increases the risk of developing ovarian cancer?

ovarian-cancer-risk factors

Factors linked to an increase in ovarian cancer risk include the following:

  • Increasing age, particularly after menopause
  • Obesity
  • Breast cancer (those with or have had breast cancer also have a higher risk of ovarian cancer)
  • Family history of ovarian cancer
  • Family history of breast or colorectal cancer

Do any actions reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer?
This needs to be discussed with your physician, as your individual circumstance has a lot to do with actions you can take to lower your risk. That said, general factors linked to a lower risk of ovarian cancer include the following:

  • Consuming a low-fat diet
  • Having been pregnant
  • Having had a hysterectomy (i.e. uterine removal) without removing the ovaries
  • Having had a tubal ligation (i.e. having had your “tubes tied”)
  • Having engaged in breastfeeding
  • Use of birth control pills
  • Use of the contraceptive injection depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA or Depo-Provera CI®)

ovarian cancer anatomy

Can ovarian cancer be found early? Are there screening tests?
Only about 1 in 5 ovarian cancers are found at an early stage. Those that do find it early have an improved chance of successful treatment. About 9 out of 10 women treated for early ovarian cancer will live longer than 5 years after the cancer is found. The best way to find ovarian cancer is to have regular women’s health exams and to see the doctor if you have symptoms.
So far, no screening tests have been shown to lower the risk of dying from ovarian cancer, therefore no tests are recommended.
What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?

ovarian cancer BEAT

Two of the issues in detecting ovarian cancer are symptoms often aren’t present early in the cancer process, and even when symptoms occur, they are easily confused with symptoms more often caused by other things. It’s reasonable to suggest to you that routine evaluation for problems in your gynecological system, particularly those that make you feel different than normal and/or are persistent should prompt an evaluation by a physician.
The most common symptoms are:

  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Abdominal swelling or bloating
  • Difficulty eating and/or a quick sensation of feeling full while eating
  • Frequent and/or urgent urination

Other symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal swelling that is accompanied by weight loss
  • Back pain
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Menstrual changes
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Upset stomach

If you have any of these problems, talk to your doctor so that the cause can be found.
Diagnosis, treatment, staging and recovery considerations are discussed at
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