September – National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

SPRINGFIELD, ILL.–(ENEWSPF)–September 1, 2011.  Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer among women in the United States and the fifth leading cause of cancer death. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer is 1 in 67, and her risk of dying from it is 1 in 95. During September, National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, the Illinois Department of Public Health encourages everyone to educate the women in their lives about the symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer.

“Many women with ovarian cancer do not experience any symptoms, which makes it difficult to detect and the cancer is often in an advanced stage when it is diagnosed,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Damon T. Arnold. “Early detection is the key to surviving cancer. This September, ask the women in your life if they know about ovarian cancer, and if they don’t, tell them it’s important to you that they talk with their health care provider.”

Symptoms of ovarian cancer

Many times women with ovarian cancer have no symptoms, or just mild symptoms, until the disease is in an advanced stage. The initial symptoms of ovarian cancer are similar to gastrointestinal illness and indigestion, making the disease hard to diagnose. Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:

  • general abdominal discomfort and/or pain (gas, indigestion, pressure, bloating, cramps)
  • nausea, diarrhea, constipation and frequent urination
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling full even after a light meal
  • weight gain or loss with no known reason
  • abnormal vaginal bleeding

It is important to check with a doctor about any of these symptoms.

All women are at risk for ovarian cancer, but older women are more likely to get the disease than younger women. About 90 percent of women who get ovarian cancer are older than 40 years of age, with the greatest number of cases occurring in women aged 60 years or older. 

Risk factors for ovarian cancer

The exact causes of ovarian cancer are not known, but the following risk factors may increase the chance of developing this disease:

  • Family history
  • Age – most ovarian cancers occur in women 50 years of age or older
  • Non-childbearing – women who have never had children
  • Personal history – women who have had breast or colon cancer
  • Obesity – women who are obese have a higher rate of death from ovarian cancer

Diagnosing ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose and is often diagnosed after the disease is advanced. Some diagnostic exams and tests you should talk with your health care provider about include:

  • Pelvic exam
  • Ultrasound – uses high-frequency sound waves
  • Blood test
  • Lower gastrointestinal X-ray series
  • Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT) scan
  • Biopsy – removal of tissue for examination under a microscope

There are several ways to treat ovarian cancer. The treatment depends on the type of ovarian cancer and how far it has spread. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation.

“I encourage all women, especially those with a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer, and those over age 55, to protect their health by knowing the risk factors and discussing possible symptoms, including abdominal pain, with their health care provider,” said Dr. Arnold.