September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. About 22,000 women a year are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States and about 14,000 woman a year a die from this silent killer. Ovarian cancer doesn't present signs until very late in it’s progression and the signs it does present are subtle, says Doctor Uchenna Njiaju with UCHealth Memorial.
"There are symptoms that can manifest, they are fairly nonspecific like bloating, feeling full early, pelvic pain, bleeding, urinary symptoms of wanting to go frequently, also a change in stool habits. The main thing is these can happen on and off and are fairly nonspecific, but if it's a persistent pattern, they are not going away, or are more severe than usual than you should get that (those symptoms) evaluated."
While the symptoms can be subtle there is are groups that are more at risk for ovarian cancer says Dr. Njiaju.
"Cancer of the ovaries is seen more as people get older. It's very rare before 40, and exceedingly rare before 30. Other factors placing someone at risk have to do with how many times a woman ovulates in their lifetime. A woman who starts periods early and ends late (in life) may have a slightly higher risk, these are general risks factors. A woman who did not have pregnancies, (a woman who has) infertility, this has an association it's not well understood and there are also certain conditions that may be related to the ovaries and the pelvis, like endometriosis that may also have a bearing on risk (factors)."
To be proactive Dr. Njiaju says woman can follow a few guidelines.
"Identify the risk factors and try to avoid them as much as possible. We know breastfeeding can be protective, having children can be protective, and we know oral contraceptives pills can be protective and it may have something to do with stopping ovulation for a period of time. If you are one of those (woman) that fall in the highest risk (who have the gene mutation) BRCA, may be at as high as 50% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer, then at 35 or at the end of childbearing, take out the ovaries and the fallopian tubes.”
While there is a lot of research being done on possible tests to screen for ovarian cancer, Dr. Njiaju says other than being aware of the risk factors and subtle warning signs there is no proven screening procedure. If you have any questions or concerns follow up with your doctor.