Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
When it comes to cancer, we have made great strides, but with some cancers, like ovarian cancer, there is still much room for improvement. It’s September – Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and increasing awareness of this deadly disease is our goal. Ovarian cancer has robbed us of friends, family, and even comedic luminaries. Ovarian cancer is often not found until advanced – something we would like to change. While researchers focus on ways to improve diagnosis and treatment, we aim to help by spreading knowledge of the signs and symptoms of the disease and the steps to take if you are concerned.
How common is ovarian cancer? More than 20,000 women in the US will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year – with a survival rate of less than forty-five percent. It is the eighth most common cancer and the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women in the US. Here’s how you can help yourself and others: Know What To Look For:
- pelvic or abdominal pain or discomfort that persists
- bloating or swelling of the lower abdomen or pelvis
- feeling full too quickly when eating
- frequent urination
- loss of weight
- changes in bowel habits, like changes in bowel consistency
While the cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, there are risk factors that can influence your risk of developing the disease. Risks for ovarian cancer are increased by:
- age: Women ages 50-60 are most commonly diagnosed.
- family history, especially first degree relatives (mother, sister, daughter)
- genetic mutations including mutations in the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes as well as other family syndromes like Lynch syndrome
- having a personal history of breast, uterine or colorectal cancer
- being a smoker.
- having never given birth or having trouble getting pregnant
- having endometriosis
- estrogen when taken by itself for 10 or more years may increase risk, although not definitive and note that taking birth control pills (with both estrogen and progesterone) may have a protective effect
How do we find ovarian cancer? Unlike breast cancer, there is no good screening test to be used on women of average risk without symptoms. If you have any symptoms or are at increased risk for ovarian cancer, the first step is a pelvic exam by your doctor and careful history. Your doctor may order a blood test to look for a marker, CA-125. This is an imperfect tool, though as the marker can be increased for lots of reasons other than ovarian cancer, and is not always elevated when ovarian cancer is present.
Our role as radiologists can come into play with a transvaginal pelvic ultrasound with Doppler for high risk patients or in patients with abnormal CA-125 results. MRI of the pelvis can be used if the CA-125 or pelvic ultrasound tests are worrisome. This will generally be done without and with IV gadolinium contrast.
Fighting this disease will take conversations and dollars. We hope to stimulate both! Coming up in Kansas City, we have the Whisper Walk, as well as the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, among others… We see hope in action and we believe in hope for all those affected by ovarian cancer. Awareness is just step one on the road to your best possible health!
Image attribution: Teal ribbon by MesserWoland via Wikimedia Commons Copyright Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Originally published 9/16/14 on mammographykc.com.