Unless you’ve had a grandmother, mother, sister or friend affected, chances are you don’t know much about ovarian cancer.
But with 22,000 new cases diagnosed nationwide in 2015 and 14,000 deaths, it’s something every woman should take seriously. September is national Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, which makes this the perfect time to become more acquainted with the signs and symptoms.
Ovarian cancer is called the “cancer that whispers” because the symptoms are so subtle that the disease often goes undetected until it’s too late to be treated successfully.
If you have any of the following symptoms that bother you daily and persist for more than a couple of weeks, please consider calling your doctor:
- Bloating or intestinal gas
- Nausea, lack of appetite or feeling full quickly
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Urinary symptoms such as urgency or increased frequency
- Unexplained changes in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Decreased energy level
Ovarian cancer has the highest fatality rate among gynecologic cancers and is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death in women, but early detection greatly increases the odds of survival. Sadly, more than 70 percent of cases are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries into the abdomen.
At that point, it’s much tougher to treat.
About 20 percent of ovarian cancer cases are hereditary. Women who have specific inherited mutations on the protein-producing genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 face an elevated risk of developing ovarian cancer, as well as breast cancer, at some point during their lifetime.
Please take time out during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month to check for any of the symptoms listed above, and if you know someone with ovarian cancer tell them about Lilies of the Valley, a local program that provides support to patients and community education on signs and symptoms.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David B. Engle, MD, is a board certified gynecologic oncologist at Tennessee Valley Gynecologic Oncology in Huntsville. He along with Joseph Kelly, M.D. and Tyler Kirby, M.D. offer genetic risk assessment, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and access to clinical research trials through the National Cancer Institute.