Some diseases announce themselves unambiguously. Others quietly creep in disguised as everyday annoyances. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer ranks among the latter. That’s why doctors at Centegra Health System urge their female patients to become educated about ovarian cancer.
“This disease may not have any symptoms early on, and if it does, they are symptoms common to many conditions,” says Leonard Hering, MD, an OB-GYN at Centegra Physician Care.
Those common symptoms include:
- Pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back or legs
- Stomach problems, such as gas, constipation or diarrhea
- A frequent urge to urinate
- Menstrual changes
Usually, these are not related to ovarian cancer. However, only your doctor can tell you for sure. “That’s why it’s so important to come in for a gynecological exam if you have concerns,” Dr. Hering says.
CHECK IN ANNUALLY
Even if you don’t have symptoms, you need a yearly exam. “Your doctor may notice differences that you don’t and be able to act on them quickly,” Dr. Hering says.
That’s important with ovarian cancer, because early detection and treatment raise the chances of surviving this disease. Although it’s rare — less than 1.5 percent of all women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime — this disease still ranks as the fifth highest cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States.
KNOW YOUR RISK
At your annual exam you can also discuss your risk factors for ovarian cancer. Any woman can get this disease. However, your risk goes up if:
- You have a mother, daughter or sister with ovarian cancer or several family members with breast, uterus, colon or rectal cancer. About 1 in 5 cases of ovarian cancer are related to a hereditary cancer syndrome.
- You’ve had cancer.
- You’ve never been pregnant.
- You’ve taken estrogen-only menopausal hormone treatment.
- You’re over age 55.
TAKE THE NEXT STEP
If a woman has any personal or family history of ovarian cancer or a very strong family history of breast cancer, her doctor may refer her to the Centegra Genetic Counseling Program. This program offers consultation and testing to help a woman understand her risk.
“Many women know that inherited changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes raise the risk for breast cancer,” says Shelly Galasinski, MS, licensed genetic counselor at Centegra. “Yet many aren’t aware that those same genes impact ovarian cancer risk, as does another hereditary condition, called Lynch syndrome.”
Women with these genetic issues can take steps to lower their risk. “We work closely with women to educate them about all their risk-reducing options,” Galasinski says.