Women’s Risk of Developing Ovarian Cancer: an Update

beat ovarianWhen the last calendar page of 2015 has been turned, some 15,000 women will have lost their lives to ovarian cancer. During this same period, more than 20,000 women will have received an ovarian-cancer diagnosis. Given these statistics, it’s not surprising to learn that ovarian cancer is the most deadly of all female-reproductive-system cancers.


No woman is immune from this often deadly disease, so those in the XX category need to become educated. September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, so now would be an optimal time to do just that.


About Ovarian Cancer

As the disease’s name suggests, ovarian cancer initially attacks one or both of a woman’s ovaries. Located on each side of the uterus, an ovary is a small, almond-shaped organ that stores eggs or germ cells and produces the female hormones estrogen as well as progesterone.


Not all ovarian tumors are cancerous. When an ovarian tumor is benign, a cure can be achieved by surgically removing all or a portion of the affected ovary. If an ovarian tumor is cancerous, treatment will be predicated on the type of ovarian cancer – the three main types are epithelial, germ cell, and sex cord stromal – and the extent to which the cancer has spread.


From an overarching perspective, it’s estimated that one woman in 75 will develop ovarian cancer during her lifetime. As is the case with most diseases, when ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated in its earliest stages, patient outcomes are the best. Specifically, the five-year-survival rate of ovarian cancer that’s diagnosed and treated early is more than 90 percent.


Unfortunately, due to the fact that there are no early detection tests for ovarian cancer – coupled with the disease’s non-specific symptoms – only 19% of all cases are uncovered at an early stage. Consequently, if an ovarian-cancer diagnosis is made at stage III or higher, the survival rate can be as low as 30.6%.



As previously noted, ovarian cancer often escapes early detection because its symptoms can be subtle or easily attributed to other conditions. That said, potential symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:


  • bloating;
  • pelvic or abdominal pain;
  • a sense of fullness without consuming a large amount of food;
  • a need to urinate urgently or often;
  • fatigue;
  • heartburn or an upset stomach;
  • back pain;
  • discomfort during sex;
  • constipation;
  • menstrual changes.


If any of these symptoms persist for more than two weeks, the woman should schedule an appointment with her health-care provider.


Risk Factors

While there are risk factors associated with ovarian cancer, the existence of one or more risk factors certainly doesn’t guarantee development of the disease. Rather, if a woman does have one or more risk factors, she simply should be vigilant regarding potential symptoms. Ovarian-cancer-risk factors include:


  • genetic predisposition;
  • family history of breast, ovarian, or colon cancer;
  • increasing age;
  • infertility (unwanted).


Reduce your Risks

Although there is no proven path to prevent ovarian cancer, there are some actions that potentially can reduce a woman’s risk of developing the disease. These include:


  • Birth control pills – Research has shown that women who’ve taken birth control pills for three or more years have between a 30% to 50% lower risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who’ve never used oral contraceptives.


  • Breast feeding and pregnancy – Studies indicate that having one or more children – especially if the first offspring is born before the woman is 25 – coupled with breast-feeding, may decrease a woman’s risk.


  • Tubal ligation – Surgically tying the fallopian tubes to prevent pregnancy also reduces the risk of developing ovarian cancer.


  • Hysterectomy – If you’re a woman who is having a hysterectomy for a valid medical reason – and you have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer – then you’re advised to talk with your physician about the merits of having both ovaries and fallopian tubes removed as part of the procedure.


  • Oophorectomy – This surgical procedure involves the removal of one or both of a woman’s healthy ovaries. Oophorectomy is only recommended for certain individuals who are at a high risk for developing ovarian cancer.











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Susan Peters