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Did you know that ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecological cancer in the United States? In 2012 alone, 15,520 new cases have been diagnosed and it is estimated that 1 in 70 women will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime. To help clarify the risk factors as well as preventative measures, Skinnymom called on Board Certified OB/GYN Ann L. Buhl, MD, FACOG, FACS.

According to doctor Buhl, ovarian cancer is the 8th most common major cancer and the 5thmost common cause of cancer death for women in the United States. Like many doctors, she agrees that early detection is a woman’s best defense but admits that the disease and its symptoms are quite often overlooked until it’s too late. Some of the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include; bloating, abdominal pain, pelvic pain, difficulty eating or early satiety and urinary urgency or frequency. Other symptoms include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, menstrual irregularities and pain with intercourse. While this may seem like a long list of symptoms, and certainly ones that would warrant a red flag, these are all symptoms common with many gynecological disorders and are often not enough to lead to a proper diagnosis.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to discuss them with your OB/GYN. While the most common test a doctor will do is a pelvic exam, you can also request that an ultrasound be performed to investigate the size, shape and configuration of your ovaries. If the ultrasound detects reason for concern, your doctor may also recommend surgery to remove samples of tissue for testing as well as a CA 125 blood test which detects the protein found on the surface of ovarian cancer cells.

As mentioned, early detection is important. The earlier the cancer is detected the better the prognosis will be, leading to a greater survival rate. According to Dr. Buhl, the staging of ovarian cancer is as follows:

Stage I: Ovarian cancer is confined to one or both ovaries. The survival rate is 90%.

Stage II: Ovarian cancer has spread to other locations in the pelvis, such as the uterus or fallopian tubes. The survival rate is 80%.

Stage III: Ovarian cancer has spread beyond the pelvis or to the lymph nodes within the abdomen. Survival rate is 15-20%.

Stage IV: Ovarian cancer has spread to organs beyond the abdomen, such as the liver or the lungs. Survival rate is 5%.

Once ovarian cancer has been properly staged, the doctor will recommend a proper course of treatment usually resulting in surgery, chemotherapy or both.

While currently there are no reliable procedures available for early detection aside from the above mentioned tests, there are certain lifestyle modifications a woman can make to help lower her risk of developing the disease. One of the greatest ways a woman can protect herself is to use oral contraceptives.  The use of oral contraceptives greatly reduces a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer even if only taken for a short period of time. Women who have had a hysterectomy or tubal ligation also cut their risk of developing the disease. Additionally breast feeding and pregnancy reduces a woman’s risk, usually leading to a 10-15% decrease with each pregnancy. On the flip side, there are many things that can lead to an increased risk of developing the disease. Having a family history of ovarian cancer is among the highest risk factor as is carrying the BRCA 1&2 autosomal dominant genes. Additionally, women taking menopausal hormones are at a high risk, particularly women who continue to use the hormones long-term.

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent ovarian cancer, making certain you follow the guidelines for prevention is always the best course of action. Should you find yourself with any of the above mentioned symptoms, don’t wait. Contact your OB/GYN immediately and request that a thorough examination be performed. Remember, this is your body and your life; make sure you’re doing all that you can to take care of them both.