"Ovarian cancer is a silent killer because the signs and symptoms are generic and often things we as women overlook, including bloating and abdominal pain," said Dr. Jennifer McEachron, Catholic Health gynecologic oncologist. "Compliance with health maintenance and symptom awareness are the most important aspects of early diagnosis. Don't ignore persistent bloating or new pain!"
Dr. McEachron emphasizes the importance of following up with your primary care doctor or gynecologist if concerning symptoms arise. "You are your best advocate!" she said.
What You Should Know About Ovarian Cancer
Nearly 20,00 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year. Most are in their late 50s or early 60s and have gone through menopause.
What are the ovaries?
Part of the female reproductive system, the ovaries are two almond-sized glands located on either side of the uterus. They are connected to the uterus by the fallopian tubes. Ovaries release eggs during monthly menstrual cycles and make the hormones called progesterone and estrogen that control menstruation, fertility and pregnancy.
What causes ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer occurs when cells in the ovaries grow abnormally. Cells may grow rapidly or no longer die as part of the natural cell life cycle. When this occurs, a tumor may form. Tumors may be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Noncancerous tumors don’t spread throughout your body. Cancer tumors are more aggressive and may spread to your other organs and tissues.
Who is at risk for ovarian cancer?
The median age for developing ovarian cancer is 60. But it can occur in younger women. Women in their mid-50s to early 60s who have gone through menopause are the most likely to be diagnosed. Other risk factors for ovarian cancer include:
- Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
- Family history of ovarian cancer or inherited gene mutations like BRCA1 or BRCA2
- History of breast, uterine or colorectal cancer
- No pregnancies
What are the types of ovarian cancer?
There are three types of ovarian cancer. Epithelial ovarian carcinomas are the most common type and involve the cells that cover the ovary’s outer layer. Germ cell tumors begin in the reproductive eggs and stromal cell tumors form in the ovaries’ supporting tissues.
Are there symptoms of ovarian cancer?
The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague and difficult to pinpoint. Therefore, this cancer sometimes goes undetected until it has spread.
Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- Bloating or feeling full without eating a big meal
- Changes in appetite
- Lower back pain
- Nausea, bloating or abdominal pressure
- Newly developed constipation or diarrhea
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain or discomfort in your abdomen and pelvis
- Prolonged, irregular or unusually heavy menstrual bleeding, especially after menopause
- Swollen belly with unexplained weight loss
- Unusual fatigue or extreme tiredness
How is ovarian cancer detected?
There is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer. It’s important to have regular pelvic exams with a health care provider who will look for abnormal growth or enlarged reproductive organs. Additionally, reach out to your provider if you have unusual symptoms that last more than two weeks.
Your provider may order further testing to make a diagnosis. These may include:
- Blood test
- Chest X-ray
- CT Scan
- Pelvic ultrasound
- PET scan
- Surgical evaluation
The information from these tests will help your provider determine the stage of the cancer and how best to treat it.
How is ovarian cancer treated?
The goal of treatment is removing the ovarian cancer from your body. Your ovaries will be surgically removed during a minimally invasive procedure, if possible. If other organs are affected, they will be removed at the same time. Depending on the extent of the cancer, your surgeon may need to perform a traditional surgery to ensure all the cancer is removed.
Additionally, you may have chemotherapy before or after surgery to kill cancer cells. After treatment, you will see your provider regularly and have routine scans to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned.
Can ovarian cancer be prevented?
You can decrease your risk of getting cancer by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and limiting alcohol consumption. If ovarian cancer runs in your family, your provider may recommend surgery to remove your ovaries before cancer can develop.
Find Care at Catholic Health
The gynecologic cancer experts at Catholic Health Cancer Institutes across Long Island create customized treatment plans designed to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Our team of cancer specialists includes board-certified oncologists and gynecologic surgeons as well as registered nurse navigators and infusion/chemotherapy nurses. Board-certified radiologists use the latest advances in diagnostic imaging. Our care team also includes social workers and spiritual support staff who can offer comfort and support to you and your loved ones.
Learn more about our gynecologic cancer services. Call (866) MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.