Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: Let’s Talk Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Support

September 17, 2021
A diverse group of smiling women sit together on a stairwell

Stock photo: Unsplash

Often, ovarian cancer goes undiagnosed until a troubling symptom rears its head. For Danette, it was a troubling medical condition that led to her diagnosis. When doctors couldn’t pinpoint the cause of her anemia, they referred her to a blood specialist. “She felt something was not right on the left side of my abdominal area,” recalls Danette, who was sent for a CT scan. Soon after that she received a phone call: She had a mass and it needed to be removed. “I was in shock,” Danette says.

Danette remembers her surgery day clearly. It was the day the United States declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency. During her surgery, she explains, “They removed not 1 but 2 masses. One was the size of a watermelon, the other the size of a golf ball.” Two weeks after her surgery, Danette learned the nature of those masses: She had stage 2 ovarian cancer.

Danette’s road to recovery included nearly 5 months of chemotherapy. Not long after her treatment ended, she fell ill with COVID-19. During that challenging time, Danette found remote support through a local Gilda’s Club, part of our network of cancer support affiliates located around the country.

Since then, Danette has gained comfort and encouragement from their virtual programs, including workout classes and a book club. “There are so many beautiful people you get to meet [who] are in your shoes, and they share their cancer journey with happy tears,” she says. In May, Danette’s follow-up CT scan revealed no evidence of disease.

In the United States, an estimated 21,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2021.

This month is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, a fitting time to share Danette’s story and bring attention to resources available for women impacted by the disease. It’s also a good time to explain risk factors for ovarian cancer and signs and symptoms to watch for.

 

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

Ovarian cancer is a type of gynecologic cancer that begins in the ovaries or fallopian tubes. It is the seventh most common cancer in women, according to the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition. Other gynecologic cancers include cervical, uterine, and vaginal.

A diagram showing the female reproductive organs

Two strong risk factors of ovarian cancer are family history and genetics. Women with family members who have had ovarian, breast, prostate, pancreatic, uterus, colon, or rectal cancer may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer. In addition, mutations in the BRCA1 gene, BRCA2 gene, and genes associated with Lynch Syndrome have been linked to a higher risk of ovarian cancer.

Other known risk factors may include:

  • Age (the average age of diagnosis is 63)
  • Never being pregnant
  • More menstrual cycles or early first menstrual period
  • Use of hormone replacement therapy

Listen to Our Radio Show: What's New in Ovarian Cancer?

 

Signs & Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Currently, there is no effective method of screening for ovarian cancer. More than 75% of women are diagnosed when their cancer is at an advanced stage and symptoms become noticeable. So, ovarian cancer symptoms can be key in diagnosing the cancer.

Persistent symptoms may include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to speak with your doctor. Your doctor will perform a series of diagnostic tests. These tests may include genetic testing and counseling, pelvic and rectal exams, or ultrasounds. If ovarian cancer is detected, these tests will help determine the best treatment plan for you.

Ovarian Cancer Resources & Support

Our recent research reveals the impact ovarian cancer can have on quality of life and distress. For example, 51% of ovarian cancer participants who joined our Cancer Experience Registry were at risk for clinically significant levels of anxiety. Nearly 40% were at risk for clinically significant levels of depression.

If you are living with ovarian cancer or are a caregiver to someone with ovarian cancer, these resources can help ease the burden of your journey:

Being diagnosed with cancer can be an isolating experience, but MyLifeLine offers patients a way to connect with their loved ones.

— Marcia, ovarian cancer survivor & founder of MyLifeLine