A Changing Picture
In the past, ovarian cancer
was viewed as a silent killer -- a cancer that didn't cause symptoms until it was too late. Because there weren't any known obvious early symptoms or any reliable screening methods, these cancers were typically discovered in the later stages, often after they had spread to other areas of the body.
However, that view is changing. Not only do we know more about the early symptoms of ovarian cancer
, but we also have a few tools to help screen women who are at higher risk for the disease. The goal is to catch as many cases in the early (and most treatable) stages as possible, without subjecting women to unnecessarily expensive, unhelpful, invasive, or worrying tests.
Know Your Risks
The very first step is to evaluate your ovarian cancer risk factors. Most of these are nonmodifiable, meaning you don't have any control over them. These are the cards you've been dealt, so to speak. These are risk factors like infertility
or a personal or family history of cancer. A few risk factors are modifiable, however, meaning that you might have some control over them and can change them, in some cases. Not all factors are equal -- some increase your risk just slightly, while others many have a very large effect on your risk.
Spend some time learning about the known risk factors. Ask your sister, your mother, your grandmother, or any other relative who might know about your family's cancer history. Ask specifically about ovarian cancer and breast cancer
, and try to find out how old your relatives were when they were diagnosed.
Why is all this important? Your risk influences how (or even if) your healthcare provider will monitor you and screen for ovarian cancer. In some cases, nothing more than a yearly physical exam is necessary. In other cases, an aggressive screening regimen may be put into place.
Learn about the known risk factors, write down the ones that apply to you, and be sure to discuss the risks with your healthcare provider.
(Click Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors for more information.)