ovarian cancer: symptoms and screening

ovarian cancer affects 1 in 70 women across their lifetime and is the second most common type of gynecologic cancer in the United States. according to the National Institute of Health, ovarian cancer often goes undetected because there are few if any, noticeable symptoms in its early stages. however, when ovarian cancer is detected and treated early, the 5-year survival rate is high. here’s what you need to know about symptoms and screening for ovarian cancer. 

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know the symptoms:

ovarian cancer rarely has noticeable symptoms when it is in its earliest stages. as the cancer progresses, subtle signs begin to appear, but you might not notice them right away, or they may be blamed on other conditions. if these symptoms occur for more than two weeks and are new and unusual; see your doctor, preferably a gynecologist. 
● abdominal bloating or swelling● pelvic or lower abdominal pain ● difficulty eating, or feeling full quickly● lack of appetite● feeling an urgent need to urinate● needing to urinate frequently● change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea)● nausea or vomiting● change in menstrual periods● abnormal vaginal bleeding● back pain● weight gain or loss

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are you at high risk?

if you have an inherited genetic syndrome such as Lynch syndrome, BRCA gene mutations, a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or a personal history of breast cancer; talk to your doctor about your risk of ovarian cancer. your doctor may refer you to a genetic counselor to discuss testing for certain gene mutations or recommend high risk ovarian cancer screening options. 

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screening tests for ovarian cancer:

although routine pelvic exams can be essential in detecting other gynecologic cancers and conditions, ovarian cancer is not often one of them, according to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. there is no consistently reliable screening test for ovarian cancer at this time, however, the following tests are available and should be considered, especially for those at high risk: 
transvaginal sonography: a transvaginal sonogram (also called an endovaginal ultrasound) is a type of pelvic ultrasound used by doctors to internally examine the female reproductive organs. It is performed with a small wand or probe placed into the vagina. this screening method can be helpful for monitoring women at high risk for ovarian cancer, or for those with an abnormal pelvic exam.  
CA-125 test: a CA-125 test is a blood test that determines if a protein produced by the most common types of ovarian cancers, has increased in the blood of a woman at high risk or with an abnormal pelvic exam. while this is an important test, it is not always a key marker for the disease and is not often used for those at average risk for ovarian cancer. 

If any of these tests are positive, you should consult with a gynecologic oncologist.