Ovarian Cancer – Know Your Risk


Ovarian cancer is the ninth most common cancer in women. It is caused when abnormal cells in the body grow out of control and form a tumor. Ovarian cancer is cancer that starts in your ovaries or at the end of the fallopian tubes next to an ovary. Primary peritoneal cancer is also considered a form of ovarian cancer that originates in the pelvis but does not involve the ovaries or fallopian tubes.

The general population of women have about a 2 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer and it can be treated, though it does have a higher chance of recurrence after treatment.

Am I at Risk of Getting Ovarian Cancer?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of developing ovarian cancer. Some risk factors you may have control over, and others may be out of your control. It’s important to talk to your primary care provider or OB-GYN about your risk factors for ovarian cancer and what you can do about them.

The risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • Older age – post-menopausal women are at a higher risk
  • Obesity
  • Never carried a pregnancy to term, or having a first full-term pregnancy after age 35
  • Infertility and use of fertility drugs
  • Use of estrogen hormone therapy after menopause
  • Endometriosis
  • Family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, or Lynch syndrome
  • Personal history of breast, uterine, rectal, or colon cancer

“Ovarian cancer is not usually inherited,” says Patty Davis, a Nurse Practitioner of Gynecologic Oncology at Munson Healthcare’s Cowell Family Cancer Center. “However, it may be related to inheriting a genetic mutation even if the family history does not include ovarian or breast cancer. We recommend that all women with ovarian cancer undergo genetic counseling with subsequent genetic testing.”

How to Decrease Your Risk of Ovarian Cancer

There’s no way to prevent ovarian cancer. But certain factors may decrease your risks, including:

  • Staying at a healthy weight
  • Taking birth control pills (oral contraceptives) for at least 5 years
  • Not taking hormone replacement therapy after menopause
  • Avoid or stop tobacco products
  • Limit alcohol intake

What are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?

Many ovarian cancer symptoms can mimic symptoms caused by other health issues. Some of these symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Feeling of fullness
  • Abdominal/pelvic pain
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Frequent urination

Remember to work with your provider to rule out other health issues causing these symptoms.

How is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed and Treated?

Ovarian cancers are often diagnosed at advanced stages due to the symptoms that don’t start until the cancer has started growing outside of the ovary. Diagnosing ovarian cancer includes a combination of diagnostic tests including blood tests for CA-125 protein, CT scans, and surgery.

“Despite often being diagnosed at advanced stages, the ability to remove bulky tumors and the high likelihood that ovarian cancer will respond to chemotherapy mean that most women will have no evidence of disease after initial chemotherapy,” says Davis. “While the primary goal of treatment is for a cure, ovarian cancer does have higher risk of reoccurrence that typically involves retreating the cancer with chemotherapy.”

Ask Your Provider About Ovarian Cancer

While there is no screening for ovarian cancer, maintaining a relationship with your primary care or gynecological provider can help you discuss symptoms of concern and decide if additional testing is necessary. Scheduling your annual Well Woman visits can help facilitate this conversation.  

If you don’t have a provider, contact Munson Healthcare Find-A-Doctor by visiting Find-A-Doctor or by calling 231-935-5886. We can help you find a provider nearby.

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