Patricia Fedorka, PhD, RNC-OB, C-EFM, CNE, professor in the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program at Chamberlain College of Nursing, is on the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses’ national committee and is an editorial reviewer for its publication Nursing for Women’s Health. Dr. Fedorka provides the following information to educate women about ovarian cancer and increase the likelihood of early detection.
Ovarian cancer is the ninth most common cancer among women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers). This year alone, about 22,240 American women will be diagnosed with this cancer, and about half (14,230 women) will die from this disease. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 72. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100.1
Risk factors for developing ovarian cancer:
- Age: Ovarian cancer is rare in women younger than 40, and most ovarian cancers develop after menopause. In fact, half of all ovarian cancers are found in women 63 years of age and older.
- Obesity: Studies show that obese women (those with a body mass index of 30 or greater) have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Fertility drugs: Some studies have shown that using the fertility drug clomiphene citrate (Clomid) for longer than one year may increase the risk for developing ovarian cancer.
- Estrogen therapy and hormone therapy: Some studies suggest women using estrogen after menopause have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Family history: Ovarian cancer can run in families. Your ovarian cancer risk is increased if your mother, sister or daughter has/had ovarian cancer. Increased risk can also come from your father’s side of your family.2
Factors that may decrease risk of developing ovarian cancer:
- Reproductive history: Women who were pregnant and carried the pregnancy to term have a lower risk of ovarian cancer than women who have not. The risk decreases with each full-term pregnancy, and breastfeeding may lower the risk even further.
- Birth control: Women who have used oral contraceptives (also known as birth control pill) for three to six months or longer have a lower risk of ovarian cancer. The risk is lower the longer the pills are used. This lower risk continues for many years after the pill is stopped.
- Depot medroxyprogesterone acetate: Studies have shown that women who used this injectable hormonal contraceptive (also known as DMPA or Depo-Provera Cl), had a lower risk of ovarian cancer. The risk is even lower if the women had used it for three or more years.
- Gynecologic surgery: Tubal ligation (having your “tubes tied”) may reduce the chance of developing ovarian cancer by up to two-thirds. A hysterectomy (the removing of the uterus without removing the ovaries) also seems to reduce the risk of getting ovarian cancer by about one-third.3
For early detection, monitor for the following symptoms of ovarian cancer:
- Abdominal bloating
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Feeling full quickly
- Urinary urgency or frequency4
At present, there are no reliable screening tests for ovarian cancer, and since these symptoms tend to be vague and associated with other, less serious conditions, they are often not reported and/or taken seriously. It is important to know your risk factors for ovarian cancer and advocate for ultrasound and further testing if you suffer with any of the symptoms listed above.
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