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Ovarian cancer is a serious concern — especially for women older than 55. Whether you have ovarian cancer, or are a concerned friend, family member, or partner, you may have many questions. Here are the answers to questions people commonly ask about ovarian cancer.
Women have two ovaries, one at the end of each fallopian tube. These almond-sized organs make eggs and sex hormones.
Ovarian cancer happens if abnormal cells in one or both of the ovaries grow uncontrollably. When this happens, the cancer cells can break through the surface of the ovary. It can then spread to other parts of the body.
About 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the U.S. And 1 out of 72 women will get it in her lifetime.
Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. About 14,300 women die from it each year. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women. So many women die from ovarian cancer because it is so difficult to detect at the earliest, most treatable stages.
Older women are most at risk for ovarian cancer — about half of the women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 years or older.
Other risk factors include
Women who have never used birth control pills also have a higher risk for ovarian cancer.
Women in their 20s and 30s have a very low risk of ovarian cancer — even if they have a family history.
Although ovarian cancer is difficult to detect during routine GYN exams, it is recommended that women see their health care providers regularly. Women should also be aware of the possible symptoms of ovarian cancer. The earlier ovarian cancer is detected and treated, the better.
Ovarian Cancer and the Pill
Ovarian cancer can cause symptoms, but they can be hard to recognize.
Those symptoms include
These symptoms are also common among women who do not have cancer. You should seek medical attention when these symptoms are a change from what is normal for you and if you start having them every day for several weeks.
Regular physical and pelvic exams increase the chance of early detection, because health care providers can check for tenderness and swelling. Blood tests, abdominal ultrasounds, MRIs, biopsies, and other tests can be used to diagnose or rule out ovarian cancer.
The main treatments for ovarian cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In some cases two or even all of these treatments will be recommended. How much surgery is required depends on if the cancer has spread. When ovarian cancer is found in its early stages, treatment is most effective.
Recent studies have shown that if the cancer has not spread beyond one ovary, women may still be able to get pregnant. But certain cancer treatments may decrease your ability to get pregnant. Talk with your health care provider about how any treatments you may have will affect your fertility.
Ovarian Cancer National Alliance
American Cancer Society
Q&A with Dr. Cullins