While women are very commonly educated about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, they are not often provided with information about ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer actually grows faster than breast cancer, and kills nearly three out of four late-stage patients within five years. Approximately one in eight ovarian cancer patients is under the age of 45.
Unfortunately, medical screening for ovarian cancer is difficult. Symptoms are often vague (low back pain, lack of energy, abdominal bloating, heartburn, feeling full quickly, pelvic pain, and frequent need to urinate) and can easily be attributed to more minor conditions, leaving early detection rates low. The only current test for ovarian cancer is a transvaginal ultrasound paired with a CA 125 blood test that measures a cancer-indicating protein. This test is not sensitive enough to catch most cases early, and actually has been shown to yield false positives.
Currently, your best defense against ovarian cancer is to educate yourself on the disease and take good care of your health. To decrease your risk, consider the following:
- Giving birth to and breastfeeding at least one baby are known risk reducers. Scientists are not sure why, but speculate it is because these actions suppress ovarian activity for a period of time.
- The phytochemical sulforaphane, found in Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower, reduces cancer risk.
- The National Institutes of Health states that you can decrease your risk of ovarian cancer by limiting your intake of fat, especially animal fat.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Studies have shown women with a higher body mass index (BMI) are at increased risk for ovarian cancer.
- Seek alternative birth control options, such as Lady-Comp. Research shows that the longer you use oral contraceptives, the higher your risk of developing cancer. The most common hormones in oral contraceptives, estrogen and progesterone, increase cell production. This not only applies to healthy cells, but to pre-cancerous and cancerous cells as well.
Finally, you should visit your gynecologist for an exam at least once per year. If you have any new symptoms or concerns, do not hesitate to bring them up. Any issue that is persisting warrants investigation.