Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow in one or both of the ovaries and can often be detected during a routine pelvic exam—either from a lump found during the exam, or from a biopsied tissue sample taken during the exam. Although ovarian cancer is often cured when it is caught early, most of the time, the cancer has already spread by the time it has been found because many of the early symptoms, including bloating, an upset stomach, constipation and diarrhea, are so general. Women who are past menopause are of highest risk, but others who have never had a baby or who are unable to get pregnant, as well as those who have taken hormone replacement therapy are at a greater risk of getting the disease. Treatment options include surgery and chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy Risk Factors

A woman’s lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer is approximately 1 in 70 (compared to 1 in 9 for breast cancer).  AGE is the most important risk factor, with most cases occurring after menopause (2/3 of cases after age 55).  The risks are higher in confirmed BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation carriers.  There is a 40% reduction in risk for women who have EVER used oral contraceptives, and a 90% reduction in patients who took birth control pills for more than 15 years.

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms are generally gastrointestinal, not gynecologic.  Bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain, and early fullness after eating are most likely manifestations of constipation, gallstones, gastric reflux, or IBS.   If symptoms persist for 3 weeks or more, evaluation is indicated.

Ovarian Cancer Early Detection

Pelvic examination and/or transvaginal ultrasonography (a sonogram) are helpful initial evaluation tests.  These tests are not 100% diagnostic, especially in overweight or obese patients (BMI >30).  The CA-125 blood test is not indicated for screening in the general population.  The CA-125 test is indicated for known BRCA 1 or 2 carriers, and when a pelvic mass is seen or felt on exam in a woman after menopause. For further questions or concerns about ovarian cancer, please contact our office today.


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