The American Cancer Society reports that when diagnosed and treated in its early stages, more than 90 percent of patients with ovarian cancer will have a five-year survival rate or longer.
Researchers have discovered several risk factors that might increase a woman’s chance of developing epithelial ovarian cancer, which is the most common type. These risk factors include getting older, having children later or never having a full-term pregnancy and having a family history of ovarian cancer.
“It’s important that women are aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, particularly if they have certain risk factors,” says Aisha Ahmed, MD, an Ascension Medical Group oncologist. “Regular women’s wellness exams can help detect ovarian cancer in its early stages.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control – approximately 21,000 women in the United States get ovarian cancer – making it the eighth most common cancer among women.
Since there isn’t a reliable way to screen for ovarian cancer, here are some of the steps you can take to find ovarian cancer early:
- Pay attention to your body. Know what is normal for you – if you have vaginal bleeding that is not normal for you, see a doctor right away. If you have pain or pressure in the pelvic or abdominal area, back pain, bloating or a change in your bathroom habits for more than two weeks – see your doctor. Any of these can be signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.
- Have regular women’s health exams. During a pelvic exam, your physician will check your ovaries and uterus for size, shape and consistency. A pelvic exam can be useful to find some female cancers early.
- Know your family history. Like most other cancers, having a close family member (mother, sister, aunt or grandmother) with ovarian cancer increases your risk.
- Ask your doctor if you should have specialty tests such as a rectovaginal pelvic exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, or a CA-125 blood test. These tests may help if you have experienced any unexplained signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and/or if you have had breast, uterine or colorectal cancer, or if a close relative has had ovarian cancer.
While some of these symptoms are common for other non-cancerous diseases, when they are caused by ovarian cancer they tend to be more persistent and change from normal – they occur more often or are more severe. Doctors recommend if women have these symptoms more than 12 times a month, they should see a doctor for necessary screening.
It is important to note: The Pap test does not screen for ovarian cancer – the only cancer the Pap test screens for is cervical cancer.
“Many women with ovarian cancer report that symptoms show up as subtle, persistent changes in their body,” Ahmed said. “It’s important for women to be aware of the symptoms, as early diagnoses can improve survival rates.”
Aisha Ahmed, MD, is a medical oncology and hematology specialist with Ascension Medical Group in Weston. For more information, call 715-393-3886 or visit ascension.org/wisconsin.