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Ovarian Cancer
Posted By Horizon NJ Health on June 12, 2013
Tags: Ovarian Cancer
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The following article was printed in the September 2012 edition of the Positive Community. Horizon NJ Health is proud to support New Jersey publications and community partners.

Philip M. Bonaparte, M.D., Vice President Clinical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer, Horizon NJ Health


Dear Dr. Bonaparte:
I heard that ovarian cancer has been called “the cancer that whispers.” I did get a Pap test
and a mammogram, along with other health screenings, but what are the signs or risks of
ovarian cancer? Anna


Dear Anna:
Congratulations on working to keep healthy and getting the needed preventive screenings, like the Pap test also called a Pap smear. However, a Pap test only screens for cancer of the cervix and not ovarian cancer. Although your doctor may have performed a pelvic exam to check your ovaries, unlike a mammogram and Pap test, there is no routine method to screen for ovarian cancer. Describing ovarian cancer as a silent cancer seems about right. For years, ovarian cancer was considered a subtle or vague cancer with few known signs during the early stages of the disease. Women did not know that they had this type of cancer until the cancer was in its late stages. That is why it is so important to learn about this disease. Remember, speak with your doctor, gynecologist and other healthcare professionals on a regular basis; talk about your health concerns and family history.

At present, women who do not have or show any signs of ovarian cancer are not usually screened. Some signs may be a hint of possible ovarian cancer, but the signs and symptoms are often like those of other, noncancerous conditions, such as digestive system (intestinal) or bladder problems.

Some warning signs may include any of the following symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding (mostly in women after the change of life (post menopause) or vaginal discharge not normal for you
  • Pain, discomfort or pressure in the stomach or pelvic area
  • Feeling full rather quickly during meals
  • Swelling or bloating
  • Continued heartburn, upset stomach or gas
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lower back pain
  • Constant low energy
  • Change in bladder or bowel habits, such as frequent need to pass urine, constipation or diarrhea

If you have any of these signs or symptoms every day for more than a couple of weeks, talk with your doctor. Know what is normal for your body. When present, ovarian cancer symptoms can continue to worsen over time. In recent years, treatments for ovarian cancer have become more effective and the best results are seen in the early stages of the disease. In fact, the American Cancer Society data show that, with diagnosis and treatment in the earliest stages of the disease, the five year survival rate is more than 90 percent.

Although every woman is at risk, older women are more likely to get the disease than younger women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that about 90 percent of women who get ovarian cancer are older than 40 years old. The majority of cases are found in women 60 years old or older.

Some factors that may increase the risk of ovarian cancer include:

  • A family history of cancer: breast, colon or ovarian (mother or sister, etc.)
  • Gene mutations
  • Hormone replacement therapy after menopause. The longer the replacement therapy, the higher the possible  risk  
  • Advancing age (post menopause) 
  • Having never given birth
  • Obese women with too much body fat, particularly in their teen years
  • Previous cancer diagnosis  

Some factors may lower your risk of ovarian cancer in varying degrees: 

  • Using birth control pills for three years or longer
  • Tubal ligation (most often performed to prevent pregnancy); a hysterectomy when the uterus and possibly the cervix are removed or by having both ovaries removed
  • Giving birth to one or more children, especially before age 30
  • Breastfeeding, especially for one year or more

As I mentioned, speak with your doctors or healthcare professionals, who all have your continued health as their goal, as well.

For more information, visit:

CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/ovarian/pdf/ovarian_facts.pdf