Ovarian Cancer: Who Is At Risk?
SEPTEMBER 22, 2020
Ovarian cancer is one of those conditions that you may not think about unless you have a family history of it.
"It's true that ovarian cancer can be passed down through families, but there are other risk factors to consider," says Leslie Garrett, MD, Director of Gynecology Oncology at BIDMC.
In addition to family history, factors that can increase your risk of ovarian cancer include:
- Age: ovarian cancer can occur at any age, but is most common in patients between 50-60 years old.
- Menstrual cycle history: beginning menstruation at an early age or starting menopause at a later age, or both, may increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
- History of hormone therapy: long-term or high-quantity use of estrogen hormone replacement therapy is often tied to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- Inherited gene mutations: those with inherited breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2), in addition to other hereditary cancer syndromes, such as Lynch syndrome, have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
The experts in BIDMC's Gynecologic Oncology Program offer advanced diagnosis and treatment options for ovarian cancer, in addition to cervical, uterine and vaginal cancer.
"Unfortunately, there are no effective screening tools available to detect ovarian cancer at an early stage," explains BIDMC's Jennifer Ducie MD, gynecologic oncologist. "Additionally, symptoms are often non-specific and are commonly mistaken as another benign condition."
Garrett and Ducie say that, in addition to the risk factors, women should be aware of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal bloating or swelling
- Changes in bowel habits
- Discomfort in the pelvic area
- Frequent need to urinate
- Quickly feeling full when eating
- Vaginal bleeding
- Watery vaginal discharge
- Weight loss
"If these symptoms are persistent, you should see your primary care doctor or gynecologist," says Ducie.
If a pelvic mass is discovered, your doctor may order special tests such as a CT scan to help plan for treatment. "Surgery helps determine the stage of cancer and would help guide further treatment decisions," Garrett says. "Our team of experts will be with you every step of the way."
Identifying whether you have an abnormal gene related to ovarian cancer can help your doctor make recommendations to prevent or detect cancer at an earlier stage. The experts from the Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program at BIDMC provide genetic counseling and testing to individuals at an increased risk for hereditary cancer syndromes.