Ovarian Cancer Risk: Don't Dismiss Chronic Stomach Troubles

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Most people experience digestive problems occasionally, like after eating a large or spicy meal. However, although symptoms like ongoing gas, bloating and nausea may seem minor, they could be signs of a more serious health condition: ovarian cancer.

It’s important to see your doctor regularly, as well as when you notice any health changes or ongoing issues. Knowing your risks for certain diseases, having recommended health screenings and staying in close communication with your primary care provider can help you detect major health problems early — including ovarian cancer — when they’re most treatable.

Understanding Your Ovarian Cancer Risk

Since some of the symptoms of ovarian cancer seem like common stomach ailments, it often isn’t diagnosed until it’s in an advanced stage. Because so many of its symptoms are non-specific, it’s important to understand your risks for ovarian cancer, including medical and lifestyle factors.

You can decrease your risk of ovarian cancer by making healthy lifestyle changes. For example, achieving a healthy weight, quitting smoking and limiting your alcohol intake all lower your risk.

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

You’re at increased risk for ovarian cancer if you:

  • Are age 40 or older
  • Had your first child after age 35 or never had a child
  • Take hormone replacement therapy
  • Used in vitro fertilization (IVF) to become pregnant

You are also at greater risk of certain cancers, such as ovarian, breast or colorectal cancer, if they run in your family. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer — or any lifestyle or medical factors that put you at greater risk — you should speak with your doctor about genetic testing and other steps to reduce your risk.

With No Test for Ovarian Cancer, See Your Doctor Regularly

Many women mistakenly believe that their annual pap smear test will catch ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, there is no reliable routine screening test for it, currently. This makes understanding ovarian cancer risks and the symptoms all the more important.

“It’s really important for women to understand that there are currently no screening modalities for ovarian cancer. This is why it is so important for women to pay attention to their symptoms and be seen annually by their OB/GYN,” says gynecologic oncologist Nathalie McKenzie, MD, director of the gynecologic oncology fellowship at the AdventHealth Cancer Institute.

Subtle Warning Signs of Ovarian Cancer

It’s important to work with your doctor to rule out ovarian cancer if you experience one or more of these symptoms, especially for an extended time:

  • Bloating and gas
  • Changes in bowel movements or menstrual cycle
  • Feeling fuller sooner when eating or loss of appetite
  • Increased abdominal girth
  • Lack of energy
  • Nausea
  • Pressure in your lower back or pelvis
  • Urinating frequency

Innovation in Ovarian Cancer Treatment

While there is no test at this time for ovarian cancer, it is a treatable condition and the treatments are growing more sophisticated each year, Dr. McKenzie points out.

“Exciting, new options now exist for patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer. New clinical trials, immunotherapies, leading-edge surgical techniques and novel drugs are being used to treat this disease. Emerging strategies have been improving outcomes for ovarian cancer patients across the board,” says Dr. McKenzie.

Compassionate Care for Ovarian Cancer and Beyond

If you’re experiencing any of the warning signs of ovarian cancer or believe you’re at high risk, there’s no need to wait until your annual well-woman exam to speak with someone who cares. Talk with your gynecologist today about your symptoms and a formal diagnosis.

At the AdventHealth Cancer Institute, we’re here to empower you with the information and medical team you deserve to prevent and treat gynecological cancers with confidence. Learn more about our programs or reach out to us today.

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