September is Ovarian Cancer Month: What you should know
Ovarian cancer is an uncommon cancer, most of us have a less than 2% chance of ever getting it. However, for those that do develop this cancer, it is hard to catch early and harder to cure. It is the deadliest of the gynecologic cancers and is the 5th leading cause of cancer death in women.
Given the vagueness of symptoms and the difficulty with attempted screening protocols, there is no current successful screening approach for the general population. This being said, there are things every woman should know to help reduce their risk of getting the disease or being diagnosed late.
Your family history
If you know of any relatives with breast or ovarian cancer, you should bring this up with your gynecologist. Depending on the relative and the age of diagnosis, you may need screening or genetic testing. Most women with ovarian cancer have no family history. But for women with a family history, their lifetime risk of developing the disease increases and with certain family history patterns their risk of a BRCA mutation is high enough to warrant testing. Other family history patterns will make a woman high enough risk to make screening with ultrasounds or labs draws reasonable.
What to ask about if you’re scheduled for pelvic surgery
For women who have no plans for pregnancy, if you are scheduled for pelvic surgery: tubal ligation, laparoscopy, hysterectomy, fibroid or cyst removal, you should ask about having your tubes out. There is increasing data that ovarian cancer often begins in the tubes and removing both tubes (bilateral salpingectomy) greatly reduces a woman’s chance of developing ovarian cancer. The benefit of removing both tubes is not great enough in the general population to justify surgery by itself. But if you’re already having pelvic surgery, bringing up the option of having this procedure done concomitantly makes a lot of sense.
What symptoms to look out for
Unfortunately, most symptoms caused by ovarian cancer are vague and common: bloating, abdominal pain and a feeling of fullness. Less common symptoms are no more specific: bladder changes, bowel changes, pain with sex, and changes to your cycle.
However, if you have any of these symptoms that persist for more than a month or two, its important to follow up with your gynecologist. The cause of these symptoms are usually something much more benign and easily treatable. But it’s better to sort that out earlier than later.
Less than 15% of ovarian cancers are detected in the first stage. Knowing your family history and getting in to see your gynecologist when you have persistent symptoms is an important part of making sure you have every opportunity to be screened if appropriate and diagnosed early if you have developed the disease.
El Camino Women’s Medical Group offers the latest Minimally Invasive Solutions for gynecologic problems. Drs. Amy Teng, Erika Balassiano, and Pooja Gupta, all members of AAGL (American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopy) are highly trained and experienced in the field of Minimally Invasive Gynecgologic Surgery. Dr. Erika Balassiano is also a graduate of the Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery Fellowship at Stanford University, under the supervision of world-renowned Dr. Camran Nezhat.
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