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Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women and yet can often go unchecked because symptoms can be subtle and easily confused with other problems.
Here's what you need to know, according to the National Institutes of Health.
You should see your doctor if you have the following symptoms on a daily basis for more than a few weeks:
Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
Pelvic or abdominal pain
Other symptoms are also seen with ovarian cancer. However, these symptoms are also common in women who do not have cancer:
Abnormal menstrual cycles
Lack of appetite
Nausea and vomiting
Sense of pelvic heaviness
Swollen abdomen or belly
Unexplained back pain that worsens over time
Vague lower abdominal discomfort
Weight gain or loss
Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:
Excessive hair growth
Increased urinary frequency or urgency
AM I AT RISK?
Many different factors can make ovarian cancer more or less likely. Having more children early in life reduces the risk, as does taking birth control pills, according to NIH.
Conversely, being older raises the risk. Two thirds of ovarian cancer deaths occur in women 55 and older. Twenty-five percent of ovarian cancer deaths occur in women ages 35-54. Having a family history of breast or ovarian cancer raises your risk, as does five years or more of estrogen replacement therapy, although not with progesterone. Also, a small number of cases are linked to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
Regular check-ups with your doctor are the best defense. Your doctor may perform blood tests as well as physical exams of the abdominal and pelvic areas. Your doctor may also scan the area with MRI, CT or ultrasound. A biopsy can make a definite diagnosis.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Treatment options include surgery to remove the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries, as well as removal of the omentum, a fatty layer that covers organs in the abdomen. Doctors may also suggest removing lymph nodes. Chemotherapy is often prescribed after surgery. Radiation therapy is less often used.