Ovarian cancer is the deadliest type of gynecologic cancer. That’s probably because it typically is not diagnosed until it has reached an advanced stage. But you can help protect yourself by knowing if you are at risk for this cancer and what symptoms to watch for.
The exact causes of ovarian cancer are unknown. But the following factors may play a role:
Age: Being middle-aged or older increases the odds of developing ovarian cancer. Women ages 63 and older account for half of all ovarian cancer cases.
Obesity: For women, a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher is considered obese. These women have a higher risk than women with lower BMIs.
Family history: Your risk is higher if you have a first-degree relative—that is, a daughter, sister, or mother—who has had ovarian cancer. The more close relatives you have with this cancer, the higher your risk. A history of the disease in family members on your father’s side is also linked to a higher risk.
A family history of breast or colon cancer also has been associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Women who have a strong family history of breast cancer sometimes opt to get checked for an inherited defect in their BRCA1and BRCA2 genes. The defect in either gene is linked to a high risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Personal history: Women who have had colon, cervical, skin, or breast cancer may face a higher risk for ovarian cancer than those who have not had one of these other cancers.
Pregnancy: Women who have had difficulty getting pregnant or never given birth have a higher risk. In fact, the more children women have had, the less apt they are to get ovarian cancer. Breast-feeding may also lower your risk.
Medications: According to some evidence, using estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy after menopause may slightly raise risk.
If detected early, ovarian cancer is treatable. But symptoms often are vague and may not show up until later stages of the cancer. Easy-to-overlook warning signs may include:
Stomach discomfort, such as indigestion, nausea, swelling, or cramps
Diarrhea, constipation, or frequent urination
Feeling full quickly
Unexplained weight gain or loss
Abnormal vaginal bleeding
Pain during intercourse
Talk with your doctor if you notice these symptoms.
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