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Published on September 22, 2021

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

Ovarian Cancer

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and UNC Lenoir Health Care wants to get people talking about ovarian cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2021, almost 22,000 women will receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer and nearly 14,000 will die of ovarian cancer.  Ovarian cancer is the fifth highest cancer killer of woman and accounts for more deaths than any other reproductive system cancer. Ovarian cancer develops mostly in women over 63, and nearly half of the diagnosis occur after this age.

Despite these statistics, this is a cancer that is less in the public eye than other cancers that are experienced by women. Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • Age (peaking in the 80s)
  • Being childless
  • Women who have had breast cancer or have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Inherited genetic mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • Hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) or Lynch Syndrome
  • Obesity: Excess body fat as measured by BMI (body mass index), including during the teen years
  • Hormone replacement therapy, also called hormone therapy (risk may be different for estrogen-only therapy and estrogen-progestin replacement therapy)

Did you know that ovarian cancer is often called “the silent killer,’ as its symptoms can be mistaken for more benign issues. These include:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling full while eating more quickly than normal
  • Pelvic discomfort or pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Back pain
  • Bowel issues, such as constipation
  • Frequent need to urinate

Because ovarian cancer symptoms are so much like the symptoms of other illnesses, it’s often diagnosed in the later stages. Only 20% of ovarian cancer cases are found in the early stages. What’s even more important to know is that if diagnosed early, a woman has a 92% chance of a five-year survival. Screening tests, which are used to detect a disease in people with no symptoms, have been developed for many cancers. Although there has been a lot of research and development into creating a screening test for ovarian cancer, there hasn’t been much success. Pelvic exams can be useful, as the doctor will check the size, shape, and consistency of the ovaries and uterus, but most ovarian tumors are very difficult to feel.

According to UNC Lenoir Health Care, you may have a blood test called CA-125 (cancer antigen 125). Too much CA-125 in your blood can be a sign of ovarian cancer. But too much CA-125 in the blood can be caused by many things, such as the menstrual cycle, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. The only way to know for sure that a woman has ovarian cancer is with biopsies taken during surgery. Tissue samples will be sent to a lab to see if they contain cancer.

The primary treatment for ovarian cancer is surgery, where the doctor will remove any visible tumors. This will usually mean removal of one of both ovaries. The fallopian tubes and uterus may also be removed. Chemotherapy is often given before and after surgery as a treatment. Hormone therapy may also be part of the treatment process.

As mentioned above, with ovarian cancer there is a high correlation between early detection and survival. Talk to the women in your life about ovarian cancer. Share this blog with them and encourage them to discuss any concerns with their doctor. Due to the higher survival rate at earlier diagnosis, it’s important to discuss symptoms immediately with a doctor. If any of the above issues are new to you, or happening daily for longer than two weeks, schedule an appointment with your physician. If you do not have a trusted physician, you can find a doctor at UNC Lenoir Health Care on their online physician directory or by calling UNC Lenoir at 252-522-7000.