Ovarian Cancer – Simple Screening that Could Save your Life

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 12:48 PM comments (0)

Ovarian-CancerSeptember is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and an important time to recognize that this disease is the 5th leading cause of cancer deaths in American women.  The cause of ovarian cancer is poorly understood, and in addition, ovarian cancer can be much more difficult to detect than other types of cancer.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer may be vague and may mimic other common women’s health conditions.  Women and health professionals may attribute symptoms to menopause, aging, stress, changes in diet or depression.  This may result in a delay in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer.  The most common symptoms include:

  • Bloating or increased abdominal size
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Urinary symptoms
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full

Carolyn Kirschner, MD, Gynecological Oncologist at NorthShore, identifies some strategies available for women:

  1. In general, symptoms that last longer than a month, or become more frequent or severe than before, should be investigated.  This may be as simple as a pelvic exam in your doctor’s office, a pelvic ultrasound or more extensive testing.
  2. Become familiar with your family history.  The most important risk factor for ovarian cancer is a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.  A family history of ovarian cancer in a mother, sister or daughter triples your risk.  A personal or family history of breast cancer prior to age 50 or of bilateral (both breasts involved) breast cancer may indicate increased risk.  NorthShore’s Center for Medical Genetics can access your family cancer history and provide recommendations based on your personal risk.
  3. Currently, the only group of women for whom routine screening, in the absence of symptoms, is recommended are those with high risk, primarily carriers of the BRCA genetic mutation.  Prophylactic (preventive) removal of tubes and ovaries may be considered in these women.  The surgery is usually done using a laparoscopic technique which requires general anesthesia but is an outpatient procedure.  For women in the childbearing age group, birth control pills may have a protective effect on ovarian cancer.

Have you known someone with ovarian cancer? Do you know if it’s in your family history?

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