Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of death in women ages 35-74, according to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC). This type of cancer causes more deaths than any other type gynecological cancer. In honor of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, HealthCare Partners would like to alert women to the risk factors associated with this disease and the ways they can safeguard their health.
Ovaries are found on either side of a woman’s uterus, and are responsible for producing eggs (ova) and the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer develops when cells in the ovaries grow uncontrollably, causing the formation of tumors which put excessive and additional stress on surrounding organs.
Because there are no screenings and tests that directly detect ovarian cancer, most cases are often undiagnosed until the disease has already spread into the pelvis and abdomen. Once in these late stages the disease is often fatal. According to the NOCC, the survival rate for ovarian cancer can be as low as 30.6 percent.
In addition to the lack of tests, ovarian cancer does not have distinct symptoms which makes early diagnosis difficult. The symptoms commonly associated with this disease are often nonspecific and can include vaginal bleeding, weight loss, discomfort in pelvic area, constipation and frequent urination. Because these can be related to more benign conditions, it is extremely important for patients to know what is normal for their bodies and to keep their HealthCare Partners coordinated care team aware of any unusual symptoms that they may be experiencing. When detected early, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 90 percent according to the NOCC. This is why as physicians we recommend patients be active and involved in their care.
All women are at risk for ovarian cancer, however, older women are at greater risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90 percent of those who develop ovarian cancer are women older than 40 years of age, with a greater number of cases occurring among women aged 60 years or older.
Maintaining a healthy weight through a proper diet and regular exercise can greatly decrease the risk of ovarian cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute taking oral contraceptives, pregnancy and breastfeeding can also decrease a woman’s risk.
Only physicians can determine a patient’s risk for cancer. Asking a HealthCare Partners provider for ways to decrease the risk of ovarian cancer can be an important step in preventing this disease.