Ovarian Cancer: Risks & Facts

Ovarian Cancer: Risks & Facts

The Facts

Occurs in 1 in 72 women

— About 10% of ovarian cancer cases are related to genetic mutations which can be passed down from the mother’s or father’s genetics, so men can be tested for the BRCA1 or 2 mutations.

— About 68% of women diagnosed are age 55 or older; almost 32% of women diagnosed are age 54 or younger

— While ovarian cancer risk increases with age, people as young as 6 years old are diagnosed with the disease

— Early detection improves survival rates

— Causes symptoms, even in early stages

— There is no general screening test for ovarian cancer.


See a doctor if symptoms persist daily for more than a couple of weeks.

— Bloating

— Pelvic or abdominal pain

— Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly

— Urgent or frequent urination

— Fatigue

Non-exclusive Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

— Indigestion

— Painful intercourse

— Back pain

— Constipation

— Menstrual irregularities

The Risks Indicators

— Personal or family history of breast, colon, or ovarian cancer or genetic mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes; The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance recommends that people talk to a genetic counselor to go over the risks and usefulness of genetic testing

— Have had difficulty getting pregnant or never given birth

Early Detection

–There is currently no routine screening test that exists for ovarian cancer. The Pap test does not screen for ovarian cancer; it screens for cervical cancer and infections. The three methods for screening ovarian cancer are as follows:

CA-125 blood test–CA-125 is a protein found in greater concentration in cancerous cells. The test is used to evaluate the disease’s progress and tumor response in patients undergoing treatment, and to monitor the levels of CA-125 in women in remission for disease recurrence.

Transvaginal ultrasound–The ultrasound is used to examine a woman’s reproductive organs including the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and bladder. This is done by inserting a probe into the woman’s vagina. The probe sends off sound waves which reflect off of body structures. The waves are then received by a computer that turns them into a picture the doctor can examine.

Manual Pelvic or Rectum exam–A doctor places one or two fingers into a woman’s vagina or rectum and another over her abdomen to feel the size, shape, and position of the ovaries and uterus. Ovarian cancer is usually in an advanced stage if it is found during a pelvic exam.

After Diagnosed
1. See a gynecologic oncologist for consultation
2. Immediately, move onto treatment, which is usually aggressive surgery called debulking
3. Chemotherapy usually follows surgery

Support Once Diagnosed

— Decide how you are going to tell your friends and family. Make careful decisions how you tell young children about your cancer.

— Learn and talk (with friends or family) about the possible emotional and physical changes the cancer can cause to prepare yourself and accept the changes

— Seek out cancer support groups so that you have those group of people you can turn to for advice and needed discussions

— Talk to your employer about any accommodations you may need during or after your treatments.

— Get a family member or friend to be your support system. Being diagnosed with cancer can be very overwhelming so have someone with you at doctor’s appointments taking notes and helping you keep up with the information the doctor is providing. Have someone learn about the disease along with you.

— Try Websites such as www.caringbridge.org, which allows people to create a personal Web page to connect with loved ones during treatment. Or www.sharethecare.org which allows loved ones and friends to organize ways to help you through your daily life while dealing with cancer.

Reducing Risk
Stay informed about the new research, treatment, and diagnosis methods that arise if you are highly at risk.

Informative Websites

Ovarian Cancer National Alliance provides news, resource, and general information about ovarian cancer

The National Cancer Institute

American Cancer Society

Women’s Cancer Network of the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation can help people connect with doctors

Facing Our Risk of Cancer (FORCE)

The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

Ovarian Cancer Research Fund raises money and provides information about funding for ovarian cancer research

Discussion and Support Resources for Patients, their loved ones, and Caregivers

The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance Support Community

Association of Cancer Online Resources, an ovarian cancer list serve that gives many people support and insight

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Find out more information at some of the above Websites and at www.ovariancancerawareness.org

Source: Ovarian Cancer National Alliance

For more on Ovarian Cancer, see “When the Killer Is Not So Silent”

Presidential Proclamation: National Ovarian Cancer Month

This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.