A Norwich Bulletin Healthy Living Column
Many women are conscientious about exercising, eating healthy, and going for routine check-ups such as pelvic exams and mammograms. These regular women’s health exams are important in the detection of problems within the reproductive system, including ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer symptoms are not always recognized and there is no effective screening test for the disease. That is why it is important that women recognize its risk factors and symptoms in order to identify and treat the disease at an early stage.
Ovarian cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the tissues of the ovary and is the second leading cancer of reproductive organs among women. It primarily affects women between 50 and 65 years of age, but can also affect women in younger and older age groups. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 21,750 American women will be diagnosed this year.
It's important that women visit their gynecologist regularly. While there may not be screening available for ovarian cancer, your gynecologist will keep record of any risk factors. These may include starting your periods early, never having been pregnant or going through menopause late. Your gynecologist will ask about symptoms that may alert them to look for cancer such as bloating, feeling full despite eating small amounts of food, decreased appetite, and pelvic or abdominal discomfort.
Since the prognosis for ovarian cancer improves with early detection, a pelvic ultrasound may be required to better assess your ovaries if you experience these symptoms, or if your gynecologist feels a mass during a physical exam.
At your routine visit, your gynecologist will also review your family history. Certain patterns of cancers within a family may raise suspicion for an inherited genetic mutation that puts you at higher risk for ovarian cancer. Families that have a strong history of breast, ovarian, prostate or pancreatic cancer are at higher risk for carrying the mutated genes.
Patients who are identified as having a mutated gene become eligible for an ovarian cancer screening test. If you are identified as carrying a gene, there are laws that prohibit health insurers from using your genetic information against you.
If you are concerned about your risk factors for ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor. By keeping up with regular visits to your gynecologist, listening to your body and knowing your personal and family history, you and your doctor can work together to identify ovarian cancer as early as possible and improve prognosis.
Dr. Elena Poloukhine is a board certified obstetrician-gynecologist and Medical Director of the OB/GYN department at Day Kimball Healthcare.