There isn't a reliable screening test that can identify early ovarian cancer, but researchers say there are possible early warning signs.
Dr. Diljeet Singh, a gynecological oncologist and co-director of the Ovarian Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, says women should be aware of possible early warning signs. Those early warning signs include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency), and increased abdominal size (pants getting tighter around waist).
Currently, there is no reliable screening test to identify early ovarian cancer, Singh said in a press release. Women need to focus on good health habits, listen to their bodies and tell their doctor if a change occurs.
Ovarian cancer is said to be a rare, but often deadly disease. The cancer used to be referred to as a silent killer and can strike any time during a woman's life. It affects one in 70 women. But researchers have found that there are symptoms associated with ovarian cancer that can help in early detection. The symptoms of ovarian cancer frequently mimic other less dangerous conditions and so it makes it difficult to pinpoint.
When ovarian cancer is caught at an early state it increases five-year survival odds from 30 percent to more than 90 percent, experts say.
Singh says the frequency and number of symptoms are important. Therefore, women who experience a combination of the symptoms almost daily for two to three weeks should see their doctor.
Doctors say it isn't clear what causes ovarian cancer. However, there are certain factors that increase the odds of developing the disease. These include carrying a mutation of the BRCA gene, having a personal history of breast cancer or a family history of ovarian cancer, being over the age of 45 or if a woman is obese.
Doctors recommend that women who are at risk start screening at age 20 to 25, or five to 10 years earlier than the youngest age of diagnosis in the family. Additionally, there are genetic tests available that can identify women who are at a substantially increased risk.
Women who use birth control pills for at least five years are three-times less likely to develop ovarian cancer, and permanent forms of birth control such as tubal ligation have been found to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by 50 percent, according to studies.
Women who have an extensive family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or who carry altered versions of the BRCA genes, may receive a recommendation to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes which lowers the risk of ovarian cancer by more than 95 percent.
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, getting regular exercise, maintaining a normal body weight and managing stresses are all ways women can help decrease their risk of ovarian cancer, Singh says.
Treatment for ovarian cancer usually begins with surgery to determine if the cancer has spread.
The best scenario would be to prevent this cancer entirely but until that day comes women need to focus on good health behaviors, listen to their bodies and know their family history Singh says.