Ovarian cancer is a tricky cancer to discuss because its symptoms often go unnoticed and are not caught early enough.
While there’s no foolproof way to eliminate your risk of developing ovarian cancer, there are risk factors you can be more aware of, including your age, family history, and certain medications and therapies.
Risk Increases with Age
As we age, our risk for developing ovarian cancer increases. This doesn’t mean younger women shouldn’t be concerned about ovarian cancer! We have seen an increase in women under age 40 diagnosed with ovarian cancer, so remember to listen to your body for possible symptoms – bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, urinary symptoms, such as urgency or frequency, and difficulty eating or feeling full quickly.
Although these symptoms are vague and often associated with other medical issues, they could be an indicator if you experience these symptoms for a few weeks or more. Consult your physician or gynecologist if these symptoms are persistent.
Family History May Lead to Genetic Testing
Do you have a personal or family history of breast, ovarian or colon cancer? At the Ovarian Cancer Connection, we encourage women to share their family history with their physicians, especially if they have a family member with breast, ovarian or colon cancer, or a relative of Ashkenazi Jewish descent with breast cancer.
Having a parent, grandparent or sibling with a diagnosis of breast, ovarian, or colon cancer may trigger the need for genetic testing of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Also, if your family history shows two or more relatives (men and women) with breast cancer, with one diagnosed under the age of 50, or three or more relatives with breast cancer at any age, genetic testing may be an option.
Please keep in mind that not all women with a history of breast and ovarian cancer will test BRCA1 or BRCA2 positive. Studies show that 55-65 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation, and nearly 45 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by the time they are 70 years old. Additionally, 39 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation and 11-17 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop ovarian cancer by age 70.
Be Aware of Hormone Therapy Risks
Recent studies suggest that women using estrogen after menopause have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Having a conversation with your physician and sharing your personal and history will help determine if this treatment is appropriate for you.
Preventative Health Tips to Consider
In addition to knowing the common risk factors for ovarian cancer, there are a few preventative measures you can take, including:
- Doing monthly self-breast exams, checking for lumps and changes in your breasts.
- Getting your annual physical and pelvic exams.
- Getting a yearly mammogram. Ask your doctor about the appropriate age for you to begin annual exams based on your personal and family history.
- Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
- Listening to what your body is telling you. Remember the vague symptoms of ovarian cancer; it may save your life.
If ovarian cancer is a real concern for you, there’s no better power than knowledge. The first step is discussing your risks with your primary care physician. Here are some sample questions you can bring up to be more informed and proactive about your health.
How do I reduce my risk of developing cancer?
What are my risks of developing breast or ovarian cancer?
Should I meet with a genetic counselor for testing?
If I have a bilateral mastectomy, what are my options for breast reconstruction?
Would you recommend a complete hysterectomy or just removing my fallopian tubes and ovaries?
Did you know: ProMedica Cancer Institute offers genetic counseling? Learn more here.
Gini Steinke is the Founder & President of the Ovarian Cancer Connection, who’s mission is to educate the northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan community on the early warning signs of ovarian cancer, support research of this devastating disease, and provide financial assistance to survivors in need.