September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and NewYork-Presbyterian Queens is helping to raise awareness, risk factors, as well as its symptoms, that all women are at risk of developing.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 22,530 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is difficult to detect, especially during the early stages.
Dr. David Fishman, vice chair of obstetrics and gynecology and the director of gynecologic oncology at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens, believes there needs to be a paradigm shift in how to approach the treatment and prevention of ovarian cancer.
“Ovarian cancer takes the lives of far too many women each year,” said Fishman, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Because of misdiagnosis and a lack of awareness that all women are at risk of developing ovarian cancer, it is often diagnosed too late. It’s important for women to know their risk of developing this disease and its earliest warning signs.”
To detect early symptoms of the disease, Fishman is offering the following facts:
- Know the symptoms. Early symptoms are easy to ignore and can include: bloating, abdominal pain, feeling full quickly and frequent urination. Other symptoms include indigestion, nausea, weight gain, shortness of breath and back pain. If you experience these symptoms for more than seven days, consult a physician and, if appropriate, ask for additional testing to see if there are any abnormalities with your ovaries.
- Pap smears do not detect ovarian cancer. Many patients believe that a clean pap test means that they are clear of ovarian cancer. This is not the case. A pap smear diagnoses cervical disease and is not a tool to diagnose ovarian cancer.
- Know the risk factors. A woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer is about 1 in 78, according to the American Cancer Society. One of the best ways to evaluate your risk is based on your personal and family history. About 20 to 25% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have a family history of the disease.
Genetics can play a role. The most significant risk factor for ovarian cancer is an inherited genetic mutation in one of two genes: breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA 1) or breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA 2). Since these genes are linked to both breast and ovarian cancer, women who have had breast cancer are at an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Uterine, colon and rectal cancers are also associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Other factors increasing a woman’s risk include infertility, early menstrual cycles, obesity and increasing age. To determine if you are at risk for developing ovarian cancer, you should be evaluated by a board-certified genetic counselor.
- Certain behaviors may reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women who use birth control for five or more years, have given birth or have breastfed, or have had a hysterectomy or tubal ligation are at a reduced risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Prevention of ovarian cancer can also be achieved by removing the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Women should speak with their doctor about whether this procedure is appropriate for them.
- When detected early, ovarian cancer is very treatable. If ovarian cancer is discovered early and it is confined to the ovary (Stage I), depending on the type of ovarian cancer, theAmerican Cancer Society notes that patients have on average a 90% five-year survival rate. That is why it’s critical to consult with a physician at the first sign of any symptoms.
NewYork-Presbyterian Queens’ Risk Assessment and Cancer Prevention Program provides comprehensive, high-quality and innovative care to patients whose personal or family history or genetic makeup increases their risk of developing cancer. Working with cutting-edge technologies, board-certified genetic counselors and gynecologic oncologists collaborate together to create a personalized prevention and care plan for each patient.
To learn more, contact the NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Cancer Center at 718-303-3725.