We all know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The NFL dons pink shoes, towels, and gloves. Yet there are other forms of cancer that, though not as common, represent a significant health concern and deserve just as much recognition and awareness! One of those is ovarian cancer and September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month!
HOW COMMON IS OVARIAN CANCER?
The good news is ovarian cancer is rare. The not-so-good-news is it remains one of the deadliest women’s cancers. Why? Because the lack of effective screenings makes early detection challenging. This is one of many reasons why raising awareness and educating women on ovarian cancer is so important.
The background risk for a woman to develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime is 1.3%. That’s 1 in 75 women. So, while it’s not as common as something like breast cancer, it isn’t nonexistent either.
According to the American Cancer Society, over 20,000 new ovarian cancer cases will be reported this year, and 14,000 of these women will die from the disease. Less than 50% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will survive 5 years from their diagnosis. To put this in perspective, nearly 90% of women diagnosed with breast cancer will survive 5 years from diagnosis. While it only accounts for 3% of all cancers in women, ovarian cancer causes more deaths each year than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
SYMPTOMS OF OVARIAN CANCER
Early symptoms of ovarian cancer are often overlooked, as they can be synonymous with common occurrences, like a woman’s menstrual cycle. These are generally known as symptoms that are much more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer compared to the general population:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
If you experience any of these symptoms over longer periods of time, talk to your doctor about your likelihood of developing ovarian cancer.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR OVARIAN CANCER?
As with all cancers, the chance to develop ovarian cancer increases with age. Ovarian cancer rates are highest in women aged 55 – 64 with the median age of diagnosis being 63. Additional risk factors include obesity, infertility, a personal history of breast cancer, and a family history of ovarian cancer.
There are also factors that are known to decrease a woman’s chance for ovarian cancer. These include a history of tubal ligation or a hysterectomy, having multiple full-term pregnancies prior to the age of 35, breastfeeding, and use of oral contraceptives for at least 5 years.
As always, it’s best to discuss these factors with your physician in the context of your own personal and family health history.
WHAT IS HEREDITARY OVARIAN CANCER AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE?
Approximately 10 – 20% of all ovarian cancer diagnoses are hereditary. Hereditary cancers occur when an individual is born with a change, called a variant, in a gene that significantly predisposes them to develop certain types of cancer over their lifetime. These variants can be inherited from one’s parents and passed onto one’s children.
There are specific features we look for when determining if a family may or may not be at-risk for a hereditary cancer. These include:
- Early onset diagnoses for more common cancers (early onset is typically considered under the age of 50)
- Presence of rare cancers (e.g. ovarian and/or male breast; can be diagnosed at any age)
- Multiple relatives affected with the same (or known to be linked) cancers across multiple generations.
- Multiple primary cancer diagnoses in an individual
- Cancer occurring in both of a pair of organs (i.e. bilateral cancer, such as breast cancer in both breasts)
Thus, knowing your family health history is important. These are simple words with potentially life changing effects. So, this Thanksgiving, grab the ladies in your family and talk about health. It might be awkward at first, but it could help save your or a family member’s life!
If your family history contains any of the features noted above, even if you have just one first or second-degree relative with ovarian cancer, a referral to a cancer genetic counselor may be useful for a personalized risk assessment. A comprehensive list of local licensed and/or certified genetic counselors is available at www.nsgc.org.
Sunflower Home Health is here to help if you have any questions about ovarian cancer. Please don’t hesitate to navigate to the contact us form on our website and reach out or give us a call at your local office. Those numbers are listed below:
- Charleston – (662) 647-0653
- Clarksdale – (662) 624-4141
- Cleveland – (662)756-4676
- Greenwood – (662) 455-3535
- Grenada – (662) 294-0726
- Indianola – (662) 887-1518
At Sunflower Home Health, we truly believe that education and awareness are the keys to making the Mississippi Delta a healthy and safe place to live, something that we are committed to making a reality.