Ovarian cancer often isn’t caught until the cancer has advanced to stage 3 or 4, when it’s tough to treat. But knowing the risk factors and symptoms of the disease is the best way to fight against ovarian cancer.
Many factors influence the development of ovarian cancer. But some qualities increase your risk.
“The general population’s risk for ovarian cancer is low,” Karen Lu, M.D., chair of gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine at MD Anderson, told Focused on Health. “But for some women who have a family history, that risk is so much higher. It’s a big difference, so knowing your family history and considering genetic testing can be very powerful.”
Other ovarian cancer risk factors include:
- Women with a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer may have a genetic difference called BRCA1 or BRCA2 (commonly called BRCA). This genetic mutation can increase the chances you will develop ovarian cancer. Other inherited cancer syndromes, including Lynch syndrome, also could increase ovarian cancer risk
- Never being pregnant. Don’t fret, however, if children aren’t part of your reality. “Anything that stops ovulation for a time, like birth control pills, pregnancy or breastfeeding, can lower the average woman’s ovarian cancer risk,” Dr. Lu said.
- Researchers also suspect regular ovulation increases ovarian cancer risk because it damages the lining of the ovaries, meaning ovary cells need to be repaired frequently. This can increase the chance for cancer-causing changes
Ovarian cancer symptoms are often vague, can mimic other health problems and vary from woman to woman. Ovarian cancer symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea, diarrhea, constipation or frequent urination
- Pain during sex
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Unexplained weight change
“Most women know what feels normal to them. If any of these symptoms last more than two weeks, talk to your doctor,” Dr. Lu said. “In most cases, it’s probably not ovarian cancer, but your doctor should at least consider the possibility.”
A blood test called the CA-125 and a transvaginal ultrasound can help diagnose ovarian cancer.
“Identifying ovarian cancer symptoms isn’t easy,” Dr. Lu said. “But finding it earlier is one of the best ways to beat it.”