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Are you at Risk of Developing Ovarian Cancer?

October 03, 2012

In the United States, 1 of 68 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer by the age of 80. The common age of diagnosis is 60-65 years, and more women are at risk of death by ovarian cancer than the breast cancer population. Certain risk indicators and symptoms can help you determine if you will be most at risk for developing ovarian cancer.

General Risk Indicators

Certain general risk factors contribute raise chances of developing ovarian cancer. One specific risk is simply age. Other risk factors are having few or no children, early age at start of a woman's period, late age of menopause or stopping your period, and not using oral contraceptives for at least five consecutive years. This is based on the theory that as we ovulate or make an egg each month, and the surface of the ovary has to repair itself as the release of the egg causes a tiny tear in an ovarian follicle, at some point the repair mechanism breaks down and cancer cells develop.

Genetic Risk Indicators

About 5-10 percent of women are genetically at risk for developing ovarian or breast cancer. This means that they carry a gene called the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene, which is passed on from their parents. The main cancers women are at risk for if they carry this gene are breast and ovarian cancer and often patients are younger when diagnosed, for example less than 50 years old.

Another genetic abnormality a family may have is the risk for colon, uterine, breast or ovarian cancer, which fall under the family syndrome called “Lynch Syndrome”, otherwise known as colon and rectal cancer syndrome. Women who test positive are not only at greatest risk for colon cancers, but also at a 40-50 percent risk of developing uterine cancer and about 12 percent risk for the development of ovarian cancer. Often the first cancer a woman in this group may have is uterine cancer before the age of 50 years. Colon or ovarian cancer can occur at the same time or within 10 years of the firs cancer diagnosed.

Genetic testing can be done after a person has met with a genetic counselor, gynecologist or a gynecologic oncologist, and is simply a swab of the inner cheek of the mouth.

Identifying Symptoms

It is possible to develop ovarian cancer without presenting any of these symptoms. A such,  it is crucial to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer in order to identify its presence as soon as possible.

  • Early satiety, or not being able to consume as much food as you once were
  • Bloating, despite the fact you are eating less and your arms/legs seem thinner
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Increased urinary frequency, but usually not painful and infections are rarely found
  • Indigestion, inability to tolerate foods the way you used to, or perception of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS
  • Change in bowel habits: stools may be harder to pass and thinner in caliber
  • Feeling a mass in the pelvis, often when one lies down. A woman may notice a bulge in the area below the belly button or umbilicus.
  • Pelvic pain may also occur, but is not as common
If you are having any of these symptoms, please be sure not only to see your primary care physician, but also please see your gynecologist for a pelvic exam.

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