Ovarian Cancer: The Silent Killer?

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Joan Lunden

Aging Well /

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With today being the last day of September (Ovarian Cancer Awareness month), I want to draw some attention and spread awareness on Ovarian Cancer.

Ovarian cancer can form within a female’s ovaries. Women have 2 ovaries, one on each side of the uterus in the pelvis. Each ovary is almond-shaped and their purpose is to store eggs or germ cells and produce female hormones called estrogen and progesterone.

Although there are many types of ovarian cancers, there are 3 ways an ovarian tumor can develop within an ovary. They are:

  1. Germ cell tumors: Start from the cells that produce eggs.
  2. Stromal tumors: Start from cells that hold the ovary together and make the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
  3. Epithelial tumors: These tumors start from the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovary. *Most ovarian tumors are epithelial cell tumors.

For years, ovarian cancer has been called the “silent killer” because it's a difficult cancer to detect, especially during the early stages. Only 19% of ovarian cancer is found early. This is partly due to the fact that these two, small, organs are deep within a women’s abdominal cavity and its cancerous symptoms are non-specific and can be easily overlooked. Most women confuse their symptoms and shrug them off thinking they are effects of ‘that time of the month’, ‘menopause’ or ‘something I ate.’ Some symptoms of ovarian cancer that you should be aware of are:

  • Abdominal bloating or swelling
  • Quickly feeling full when eating
  • Weight loss
  • Discomfort in the pelvis area
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • A frequent need to urinate
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Constipation or menstrual changes

If you find yourself having any of these persisting symptoms, make sure to make an appointment with your gynecologist. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer make your doctor and gynecologist aware. If you have signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, your gynecologist should perform the following:

  • Complete pelvic exam
  • Transvaginal or pelvic ultrasound
  • CA-125 blood test

These tests are most effective when combined.

There is no way to prevent ovarian cancer, but studies have shown that some strategies reduce the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer, only slightly. If you are concerned about your risk of ovarian cancer you should discuss the following with your physician.

  • Oral contraceptives (Birth Control)  - Women who used oral contraceptives for 5 or more years have about a 50% lower risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Gynecologic surgery – most doctors and experts agree that having an operation should only be performed for valid medical reasons – not to eliminate your risk for ovarian cancer. If you are older than 40 or have already gone through menopause or are close to menopause some doctors recommend tubal ligation or that ovaries can be removed if there is a history of ovarian cancer in your family.
  • BRCA Gene – Although costly, The BRCA gene mutation test is a way to predict whether you are likely to have one of the gene mutations associated with an increased ovarian cancer risk. Research has shown that premenopausal women who have BRCA gene mutations and have had their ovaries removed reduce their risk of breast cancer as well as their risk of ovarian cancer. The risk of ovarian cancer is reduced by 85% to 95%, and the risk of breast cancer cut by 50% or more.

Even though about half the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 years of age or older, ALL women are at risk for ovarian cancer and nearly a quarter of a million women are diagnosed globally each year.  Unfortunately, there is no reliable screening test so the best way to be beat ovarian cancer, (just like any type of cancer) is to be proactive. Schedule an annual gynecologist appointment each year and if something doesn’t feel right seek medical attention. Early detection is key!

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Photo credit:

Do you have a story you would like to share about Ovarian Cancer? Share your story on my Stories of Courage column. Victoria Schult shared this story about her personal experience with this cancer. 



American Cancer Society:

Categories: Aging Well, Health
About The Author
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Joan Lunden truly exemplifies today’s modern working woman. An award-winning journalist, bestselling author, motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, one of America’s most recognized and trusted television personalities, this mom of seven continues to do it all. As host of Good Morning America for nearly two decades, Lunden brought insight to top issues for millions of Americans each day. The longest running host ever on early morning television, Lunden reported from 26 countries, covered 4 presidents and 5 Olympics and kept Americans up to date on how to care for their homes, their families and themselves.

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