Ovarian cancer is one of the most common and deadly forms of gynecologic cancer.
An estimated 590 women in Michigan will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, and more than 440 Michigan women will die from ovarian cancer in 2022, according to the American Cancer Society data.
Ovarian cancer is challenging to diagnose and treat because symptoms are connected to many other health conditions.
September is ovarian cancer awareness month, so it’s a good time to learn the symptoms and risks of the disease and gain a greater understanding of this type of cancer. Check in with your gynecologist or doctor with concerns, and the American Cancer Society says doing so can save many lives.
The ovaries are the organs in a woman’s reproductive system that produces eggs, also known as ova. The two ovaries are located deep in a woman’s pelvis, on both sides of the uterus or womb, and close to the fallopian tubes.
The ovaries have two jobs: to make female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) and to produce mature eggs.
Once a month, during ovulation, an ovary releases an egg that travels down a fallopian tube to the uterus. If fertilized by a sperm, it will develop into a fetus. If unfertilized, it will be shed from the body during menstruation.
Ovarian cancer symptoms
A woman with ovarian cancer may not have any signs or symptoms in the early stages, but symptoms may begin as the tumor grows.
Symptoms may include:
- Pelvic or abdominal (belly) pain
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms such as urgency (constantly feeling like you have to go) or frequency (having to go often)
Who is at risk for ovarian cancer?
While the causes of ovarian cancer are not well understood, several factors can increase a woman’s risk of developing the condition.
The American Cancer Society reports that risk increases with age because, as we age, cells can become damaged, making it more likely for cancer to develop. Women ages 50 to 79 are more commonly diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
According to Ovarian Cancer Canada (OCC), the risk increases as a person ages. As we age, cells become damaged, making it easier for cancer to develop. The disease is most common between the ages of 50 to 79.
Other factors, such as BRCA gene mutations and family history, can impact the chances of developing ovarian cancer. Women with a family history of ovarian, prostate, or pancreatic cancer on either side of the family also increase the risk.
Can you prevent ovarian cancer?
Women can’t do anything about family history or aging but stay at an average weight and avoid hormone therapy that can cause mutant genes. Research shows avoiding oral contraceptives and the type two diabetes medication metformin can help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
How women can be proactive about their reproductive health
Everyone with ovaries can develop ovarian cancer; The American Cancer Society recommends that you speak with a doctor about your concerns to see how they might be able to help you.
A hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), tubal ligation (getting tubes tied), or removing the fallopian tubes are options to help.
These surgeries would prevent a later pregnancy, but women interested in being proactive about preventing ovarian cancer can consider freezing their eggs and using a surrogate to have a child may be an option for those who can afford it.