According to the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, ovarian cancer is the most fatal of all gynecologic cancers and the fifth leading cause of cancer among women in the U.S. Each year, more than 21,000 American women are diagnosed with the disease.
What risk factors should women be aware of in the fight against ovarian cancer?
About 10 to 15 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have a hereditary tendency to develop the disease. The genes associated with breast cancer and ovarian cancer are linked (BRCA1 and BRCA2), which means women who have had breast cancer are at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Genetic testing is available for women who are interested in receiving more information about their risk level.
While women of all ages are at risk of developing ovarian cancer, a woman’s risk is higher during her 60s and increases with age through her late 70s.
Reproductive history and infertility
A woman is at an increased risk if she started menstruating at an early age (before 12), has not given birth to any children, had her first child after 30, experienced menopause after 50 or has never taken oral contraceptives.
Hormone replacement therapy
Recent studies indicate that using a combination of estrogen and progestin for five or more years (often used to alleviate symptoms associated with menopause) significantly increases the risk of ovarian cancer in women who have not had a hysterectomy. Ten or more years of estrogen use increases the risk of ovarian cancer in women who have had a hysterectomy.
Various studies have found a link between obesity and ovarian cancer. A 2009 study found that obesity was associated with an almost 80 percent higher risk of ovarian cancer in women 50 to 71 who had not taken hormones after menopause.
Oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
The use of oral contraceptives decreases the risk of developing ovarian cancer, especially when used for several years. Women who use oral contraceptives for five or more years have about a 50 percent lower risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who have never used oral contraceptives.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer are often subtle, but detectable:
- Bloating Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
Want to help raise awareness of ovarian cancer? Join St. Elizabeth Healthcare at the 2017 Teal Power 5K Run & Walk for Ovarian Cancer Awareness on Saturday, September 16, at Summit Park in Blue Ash, Ohio.