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Ovarian Cancer


Ovarian Cancer

Most cases of ovarian cancer occur in women older than 50, but it can also affect younger women. About one in every 57 women in the United States will develop ovarian cancer, which causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.

Risk factors may include:

  • Genetics and family history. Women whose immediate family members have had ovarian cancer and women who inherit certain genes have a much higher risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Obesity. Being overweight may increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Hormone replacement therapy. Postmenopausal women who take hormone replacement therapies are at an increased risk for ovarian cancer.

What you can do to help prevent or treat ovarian cancer

If you're at high risk for ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about these preventive options:

  • Oral contraceptives, tubal ligations and hysterectomies. All may reduce your risk, but also come with their own complications and side-effects.
  • Surgery. A prophylactic oophorectomy – or the removal of healthy ovaries – may prevent cancer growth.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be one way to help reduce your risk for ovarian cancer. Try to:

  • Exercise. Thirty minutes of moderate physical activity each day can help control cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and blood pressure.
  • Eat healthfully. Pay attention to the food groups – include plenty of whole grains, fruit and vegetables and avoid excess saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and sugar.
  • Keep a healthy weight. Staying within the healthy weight range for your height reduces your risk for high cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
  • Quit smoking. As with other cancers, smoking greatly increases your risk for ovarian cancer.
  • Go to the doctor regularly. Most women should have an annual exam, including a pelvic exam and Pap test, annually.

If you're diagnosed with ovarian cancer, your doctor will likely recommend a combination of therapies. Treatment options typically depend on the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer and your overall health. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are the most common treatments.

How to talk to your doctor

Women with ovarian cancer often do not have any – or just have mild – symptoms, until the disease is in an advanced stage. You might want to:

  • Tell your doctor about your risk factors
  • See your doctor right away if you notice:
    • Pelvic, lower abdominal or back pain
    • Vaginal bleeding or abnormal menstruation
    • Weight gain or loss, bloating
    • Lack of appetite, indigestion, gas, nausea or vomiting