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September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. Like other reproductive cancers, ovarian cancer is not always easy to detect based on early symptoms alone. Knowing how to talk about risk factors, screenings, and symptoms with your doctor can help to detect ovarian cancer early on when treatments are less invasive and more likely to lead to successful elimination of cancer cells.

Ovarian cancer forms in the ovaries, two reproductive organs that store eggs and produce hormones like estrogen. When the DNA of a cell isn’t working correctly, it can lead to uncontrollable cell growth and production. If undetected and untreated, these cells can grow into tumors on one or both ovaries. One in 75 people who have ovaries will develop ovarian cancer during their lifetime. 

Because the early symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague and easy to attribute to other common conditions, it often isn’t discovered until later stages when it’s harder to treat and has potentially spread to other parts of the body. However, having regular check-ups and pelvic exams and talking to a doctor when symptoms are persistent can help detect cancerous cells and tumors early.

Some common early symptoms of ovarian cancer are bloating and abdominal discomfort, regular pelvic pain and pain during intercourse, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly while eating. If these symptoms are persistent, it might be good to talk to a doctor about what you’re experiencing. 

There are also specific risk factors associated with ovarian cancer that can help you and your physician decide if screening for ovarian cancer is an important next step when experiencing symptoms. One significant risk factor is a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which can be screened for at any time. Other risk factors include having already experienced menopause, a personal history of breast cancer, a family history of breast or gynecological cancers, and endometriosis. 

Screening for ovarian cancer can be difficult, especially in the earliest stages, but sharing concerns with your doctor can help lead to early detection. Prognosis for patients who are diagnosed in stages I and II is generally very good, and the earlier that cancer cells are detected the easier it is to treat. 

One of the first steps in detection is a pelvic exam, which can be scheduled at a Planned Parenthood Great Plains health center online. Book a cancer-screening or other sexual and reproductive health care appointment today: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-great-plains/ppgp-health-centers

Tags: cancer, cancer screenings