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Are You at Risk for Ovarian Cancer?

Did you know that ovarian cancer is the deadliest type of gynecologic cancer? It’s typically diagnosed at an advanced stage. You can help protect yourself by knowing if you are at risk for this cancer and the symptoms.

Know the Risk Factors

The exact causes of ovarian cancer are unknown. But the following factors can play a role:

  • Increasing Age: Being middle-aged or older increases the odds of developing ovar­ian cancer. Risk is highest after menopause. The average age at diagnosis of ovarian cancer in the S. is 63 years old.
  • Family history: A woman may be at risk if she has a first-degree relative—that is, a daughter, sister, or mother—who has had ovarian cancer. Her risk is particularly high if two or more first-degree relatives have had this cancer. A history of the disease in other close family members—such as aunts or grandmothers, on either your mother’s or father’s side—is also linked to a higher-than-average risk.

A family history of breast or colon cancer also has been associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Moreover, women who have a strong family history of breast cancer sometimes opt to get checked for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which are linked to a high risk of breast cancer. Being a carrier of either one of these genes is associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. However, it is important to note, however, majority of women who develop ovarian cancer has no family history of ovarian cancer and no genetic mutation.

  • Personal history: Women who have had colon or breast cancer may face a higher risk for ovarian cancer than those who have not had either of these other cancers.
  • Infertility and Endometriosis: Women who have never given birth have a higher risk than women who have. In fact, the more children women have had, the less apt they are to get ovarian cancer.
  • Talcum Powder: In some studies, use of talcum powder in feminine hygiene products or contraceptives has been linked to ovarian cancer. However, the overall increase in risk is minimal. This issue is still being explored.

Factors that are associated with a decreased risk include previous pregnancy, history of breastfeeding, oral contraceptives and tubal ligation.

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Warning Signs

If detected early, ovarian cancer is treatable. But symptoms often are vague and may not show up until later stages of the cancer. Easy-to-overlook warning signs may include:

  • Stomach discomfort, such as indigestion, nausea, swelling, or cramps
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or frequent urination
  • Decreased appetite
  • Feeling full after even a light meal
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Fatigue
  • Backache

It’s important to pay attention and talk to your doctor if these “vague” symptoms become persistent and/or increased in frequency, intensity and duration. A patient with ovarian cancer has the best chance of being cured when she is treated early.

Click here to learn more about Ovarian Cancer.

Dr. Joan Cheng was born in Hong Kong and came to the U.S. at a young age, where she grew up in South Carolina. She attended Duke University to earn her B.S. in Biology. She then moved to New Orleans to pursue her M.D. at Tulane University School of Medicine. She left New Orleans for several years to complete her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at State University of New York at Stony Brook and then moved across the country to pursue her Fellowship in Gynecologic Oncology at University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Dr. Cheng, who served as a faculty member at Tulane Medical School before joining Touro’s Crescent City Physicians group in 2007, treats gynecologic cancers such as endometrial, cervical, ovarian and vulva cancers, as well as other complex gynecologic issues that require specialized surgical skills, including robotic surgery.