Is ovarian cancer really a silent disease? It’s sometimes called that because early stages of ovarian cancer rarely cause symptoms. If symptoms are present, they tend to be vague and not specific to the ovaries. Unfortunately, this lack of symptoms can often delay detection and diagnosis until the cancer is at an advanced stage when the chance for cure is smaller.
The National Cancer Institute notes, “ovarian cancer has the highest mortality of all cancers of the female reproductive system, yet comprises only 3% of all cancers in women.” Part of this is due to the fact there is no widely-available screening method for the early detection of ovarian cancer yet. Therefore knowing the risk factors and symptoms of the disease are key.
Ovarian Cancer Symptoms
Women should note the following symptoms and if they are new or persist daily for more than two weeks, should contact their healthcare provider:
- Pain in the abdomen, pelvis or lower back
- Feeling full early
- Vaginal bleeding not related to menstrual cycles
- Painful sex
Ovarian Cancer Risk factors
In addition to knowing the symptoms ovarian cancer can cause, it’s also helpful to note the risk factors. Risk factors are anything that can change your chances of developing a disease.
The risk factors that are known to increase a woman’s chance of developing ovarian cancer include:
The following risk factors can decrease a woman’s chance of developing ovarian cancer:
- Taking oral contraceptives
- Having children
- Breast feeding
- Having a tubal ligation
- Removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes
Most ovarian cancers are treated with a combination of surgery, to stage the tumor and remove as much of it as possible, and afterward, 3-6 cycles of chemotherapy, either given through a vein or given directly into the abdominal cavity, to kill any tumor cells not visible to the surgeon. The good news is that most ovarian cancers are responsive to chemotherapy.
If you or anyone you know has questions about ovarian cancer, the nurses at the Cancer AnswerLine™ are here to help. Our service is free and confidential. Our phone number is 1-800-865-1125 or you can email us.
U-M booklet: What Every Woman Should Know About Gynecologic Cancer (pdf)
Recent promising study on early detection for ovarian cancer: New Screening Strategy May Catch Ovarian Cancer at Early Stages
The Cancer AnswerLine™ is a dedicated phone line at the Comprehensive Cancer Center that is staffed by oncology nurses five days a week, 8 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. at 800-865-1125. They have a combined 105 years of experience helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer.
The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan for cancer patient care. Seventeen multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.