Ovarian cancer is known as the silent killer because it often isn’t found and diagnosed until it has metastasized, or spread, to other areas of the body. And once a cancer has spread it is more difficult to treat. The good news is that physicians and patients are beginning to understand that the disease does show symptoms in the earliest stages -and now that awareness of these symptoms is growing more people are being diagnosed sooner and getting more effective treatment.
One of the reasons ovarian cancer is so difficult to diagnose is because the symptoms are mostly general and rather common. Typical symptoms include abdominal pressure or “fullness,” needing to urinate frequently, and pelvic pain. Some women also experience changes in their bowel habits, low back pain and other symptoms. Most women have symptoms like these from time to time. The key to identifying them as possible symptoms of ovarian cancer is that the symptoms never really go away -and tend to worsen over time.
Scientists don’t yet know what causes ovarian cancer, though they do suspect genetics can make a woman more susceptible to the disease. Those who have a strong family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer are considered to be more at risk. Interestingly, women who have been pregnant at least once have a lower risk of getting ovarian cancer. Conditions such as obesity and infertility, and having had hormone replacement therapy, can increase your risk.
To treat ovarian cancer, a patient will need surgery. The surgeon will remove as much of the tumor and surrounding tissue as possible. Surgery will be followed by chemotherapy to kill any cancer cells that might remain. Women who are diagnosed and treated in the early stages of the disease have a 93 percent five-year survival rate.
There is not a lot a woman can do to prevent ovarian cancer. Using oral contraceptives or having at least one baby can reduce your risk somewhat. The best advice is to be aware of the symptoms and make healthy lifestyle choices.