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Ovarian Cancer: 3 Things You Need to Know

What? A teal ribbon during Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Why?

· breast cancer,Ovarian Cancer,Genetic Testing

In my practice as a general surgeon I routinely ask patients about their family history of heart disease and diabetes but also about their cancer history.  Many people don’t realize that many cancers can be inherited, like prostate, stomach or pancreatic cancer, because these cancers don’t get that much attention.  Breast cancer, however, gets tons of media attention nowadays, because of fervent effort of multiple thousands of advocates, volunteers and celebrities.  Even the NFL goes pink in October! 

Another important cancer to remember is ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is diagnosed in a quarter of a million women around the world every year. Statistics show that just 45% of women with ovarian cancer are likely to survive for five years, compared to up to 89% of women with breast cancer. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer gets hidden behind the pink glow of breast cancer, so while many women are aware of their family history of breast cancer, they don’t know about their family history of ovarian or uterine cancer.

Statistics show that just 45% of women with ovarian cancer are likely to survive for five years, compared to up to 89% of women with breast cancer. ​

Many patients are aware of the link between family history of breast cancer and the BRCA genes, but the risk of ovarian cancer is forgotten. Women who are BRCA carriers are not only at risk for breast cancer, but also have up to a 50% risk of ovarian cancer. Women who may be at higher risk compared to everyone else are those who on either their father’s or mother’s side of the family have two or more relatives who have had ovarian, breast, colon or uterine cancer. Women with one close family relative with ovarian cancer are candidates for genetic testing. These are the facts I want you to know:

All women are at risk for breast cancer. Those at increased risk are those who started their periods at a young age (younger than 12) or who had menopause at a later age (older than 51), those who have never had children, and have never taken birth control. These are also risk factors for breast cancer by the way.

Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage. There is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer, so we find it only when it’s big enough to cause symptoms. We as doctors do not routinely look for this cancer like we do breast cancer, so knowing your personal and family history is important.

Many women believe the Pap smear will detect ovarian cancer. It does not. If you have a family history of even one close relative with ovarian cancer or have signs or symptoms like increased tummy size or pelvic pain, then your doctor will refer you for a complete pelvic exam, a pelvic ultrasound, and a CA-125 blood test.

So talk to family members on both your mom’s and dad’s side and know your family’s cancer history. If there is family history of ovarian, breast, uterine or colon cancer, you may benefit from genetic testing. It will also give you motivation to get that mammogram and colonoscopy. Don’t just assume your health is fine, know it!

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