Symptoms and Risks
What Every Woman Should Know About Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian Cancer Symptoms
- Abdominal, pelvic, or lower back pain
- Nausea, lack of appetite, or feeling full quickly
- Bloating or intestinal gas
- Urinary symptoms (urgency or increased frequency)
- Unexplained changes in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Ongoing decreased energy level
Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors
- Inherited gene mutation: BRCA1 and BRCA2
- Personal or family history of ovarian, breast or colon cancer
- Infertility or no pregnancies
- Increasing age
Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecological cancer in the U.S. All women are at risk and should have an annual pelvic and rectal examination. Early detection increases survival rate. Ask your doctor about the CA125 blood test.
A pap smear does not detect ovarian cancer...so listen for the whisper!
What do I do if I am concerned about my risk of ovarian cancer or have symptoms that persist and are unusual for me?
- Speak to your gynecologist for more information and have an examination. Be sure to discuss the possibility of ovarian cancer with your doctor.
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
- Vaginal-rectal pelvic examination (also called a bimanual exam). This exam allows the ovaries to be examined. Every woman should undergo a rectal and vaginal pelvic examination when she visits her doctor.
- Transvaginal Ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to create a picture of the ovaries, and can often reveal if there are masses or irregularities on the surface of the ovaries. It cannot determine if you have cancer but it can show characteristics that give different levels of suspicion.
- CA125 blood test. This test measures the level of a substance (protein) in the blood that may increase when a cancerous tumor is present. This protein is produced by ovarian cancer cells and is elevated in more than 80% of women with advanced ovarian cancers and 50% of those with early-stage cancers. CA125 is not elevated in half of early cancers and can be elevated in many benign conditions. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) does not endorse using it to screen women at ordinary risk or in the general population.
- These tests are most effective when used in combination.
- The PAP test is used to detect cervical cancer, NOT ovarian cancer.
If tests suggest the possibility of ovarian cancer, seek a referral to a gynecologic oncologist:
- A gynecologic oncologist is a physician who specializes in treating women with reproductive tract cancers.
- Gynecologic oncologists are initially trained as obstetrician/gynecologists and then undergo three to four years of specialized education in all of the effective forms of treatment for gynecologic cancers (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and experimental treatments) as well as the biology and pathology of gynecologic cancers.
Why is it so important to be treated by a gynecologic oncologist?
The importance of being treated by a gynecologic oncologist cannot be stressed enough. According to numerous medical studies, there are significant survival advantages for women who are treated, managed, and operated on by a gynecologic oncologist.
- Gynecologic oncologists are 5 times more likely to completely remove ovarian tumors during surgery
- 80% of ovarian cancer patients receive inadequate surgical debulking and staging from non-gynecologic oncology surgeons
- Survival rate and outcomes vastly improve with gynecologic oncologists
How can I find a gynecologic oncologist in my area?
- Call The Gynecologic Cancer Foundation toll-free hotline at 1-800-444-4441 or visit them online at www.wcn.org
How is ovarian cancer usually treated?
- Surgery, debulking, and surgical staging (removal of ovarian tumors)
- Radiation therapy when appropriate
- Treatment for recurrent ovarian cancer needs to be determined by a gynecologic oncologist
Where can I get more information and help?
Source: American Cancer Society, Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Health, And National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.