Each year, a quarter of a million women worldwide are diagnosed with ovarian cancer — and each year, 140,000 women die from the disease. All women, regardless of race, economic status, location or health, are at risk for developing ovarian cancer.
However, with regular check-ups and knowledge of warning signs, ovarian cancer can be caught and stopped early on. This September, inform your-self and your loved ones about ovarian cancer and spread to word to help find a cure.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
A woman’s ovaries regularly produce eggs (ova) and the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. They are an integral part of a woman’s health, keeping them regulated, grounded, and healthy. When ovarian cancer be-gins, cancerous cells form tumors either in or on the ovaries and begin to disrupt the body’s functions. These tumors vary in size, type, and severity and determine which type of ovarian cancer is present.
There are three different kinds of ovarian tumors: germ cell tumors (which start from the cells that produce eggs), stromal tumors (which start from cells that produce hormones), and epithelial tumors (which start from cells on the outer surface of the ovary). Epithelial tumors are the most common of the three and are the leading cause of the most prominent type of ovarian cancer: invasive epithelial ovarian carcinoma.
Ovarian cancer, when left unnoticed, can be very dangerous and hard to treat. Once cancer cells spread to other parts of the body (known as metastasizing), ovarian cancer is considered late-stage and has the highest mortality rate. However, prior knowledge of warning signs can be all it takes to catch ovarian cancer in its early stages.
Warning Signs and Prevention
First, it is important to look at genetic history. Women with a family history of cancer (specifically ovarian, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer) may have an increased risk for ovarian cancer. Increasing age and menopause are other factors that increase a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer over time. In contrast, factors that lower a woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer include pregnancy, breastfeeding, birth control, tubal litigation (having your “tubes tied”), hysterectomies, and a low-fat diet.
There are a variety of warning signs to watch out for with ovarian cancer. The most common symptoms are:
- swelling of the stomach
- unnatural bloating
- abdominal pain
- trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- urinating more frequently than usual
- unnatural fatigue
- pain during sex
- menstrual changes
If you or a loved one is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it is highly recommended that you see a doctor immediately. However, even without exhibiting these symptoms, it is important to schedule regular check-ups with your doctor.
It is also important to note that, contrary to popular belief, pap smear tests are not able to identify ovarian cancer cells. Tests that can successfully identify ovarian cancer include ultrasounds, CT scans, PET scans, blood tests, and biopsies.
Coping with Ovarian Cancer
Cancer can be incredibly scary for patients and their loved ones. First and foremost, it is vital to stay informed about your cancer and follow treatments exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Depending on the severity of diagnosis, this can include taking regular medication, exercising, change in diet, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or getting surgery.
The side effects of these treatments can also take a toll, from fatigue and pain to a potentially-reduced ability to have children. Through it all, it is incredibly important to stay educated on your diagnosis, surround yourself with loved ones, and do your best to remain optimistic.
It is also important that the loved ones of patients stay informed and supportive throughout the process. It can be easy to succumb to feelings of hopelessness and dread when watching a loved one cope with cancer. However, your support and love can make all the difference in helping them make it through. Remember to ask questions, accept change, and always show them you care.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, there are multiple resources you can look to for help.
In cases where ovarian cancer prevents a person from functioning normally and earning wages, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Social Security can provide monthly benefits to patients and families who are financially unable to function due to their impairment. For more information on SSDI or the application process, you can refer to the Social Security Administration’s website or speak with a Social Security disability attorney.
It can also be extremely beneficial to utilize benefits provided by outside organizations. The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (ovariancancer.org) is a wonderful resource for ovarian cancer patients and survivors to connect over their experiences. You can also attend local support groups in your area or find suggestions through your doctor.
This September, spread the word about ovarian cancer and do your part to create a more cancer-free future.