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Ovarian cancer: Raising awareness
Watch for the signs
Three therapeutic avenues

Women at risk
Women at risk

You are at higher risk for ovarian cancer if you…

  • have never been pregnant
  • are over 50
  • have had breast cancer
  • have a close relative with the disease

If you fall into a high-risk category, make sure you get a yearly pelvic exam.

In 1989, comedienne Gilda Radner died of ovarian cancer. If she had known that the disease, as well as breast cancer, was part of her family health history, she might have noticed the cancer’s subtle symptoms in time to treat it effectively.

Fortunately, for the approximately 21,650 who will develop ovarian cancer this year [2008], the prognosis isn’t always that grim. As with all cancers, the key to combatting ovarian cancer is early detection. However, as in Radner’s case, patients usually aren’t aware of the symptoms until the cancer is in its mid to late stages. Pelvic exams can help detect ovarian cancer, but if you are at risk, pay special attention to any abnormal discomfort.

Watch for the signs

Because there is ample room in the abdominal cavity surrounding the ovaries, ovarian cysts often are not detected until they have grown large enough to cause one or more of these persistent problems:

  • bloating
  • swelling
  • loss of appetite
  • fullness, even after a small meal
  • gas
  • indigestion
  • nausea
  • unexplained weight loss
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • frequent urination
  • pelvic pressure
  • back or leg pain

If any of these symptoms persist, inform your doctor. They could indicate ovarian cancer or another disease.

Three therapeutic avenues

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are a woman’s three main treatment options. However, a doctor will consider the patient’s age, general health and the cancer’s stage when determining the best therapy.

  • Surgery involves removal of the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes. If possible or if the woman wants to have children, only the affected areas will be removed.
  • Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs that are injected into a vein or taken by mouth. A recent therapy in which the anticancer drugs are introduced directly into the abdomen through a catheter is currently being tested. This allows the chemotherapy drugs to reach the cancer more efficiently while sparing healthy tissue.
  • Radiation uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. In some cases, radioactive liquid can be placed into the abdomen to destroy the cells.

Together with your doctor, you may decide that a combination of treatments is the best strategy for you.