September: Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

By Best Doctors

When we think of cancers that impact women, breast cancer is often what first comes to mind. Perhaps this isn’t surprising,
considering breast cancer is expected to account for
30 percent of new cancer cases in 2017 for women in Canada. However, when it comes to cancers with a low survival rate, ovarian cancer – which comes under the spotlight in September during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month – ranks as one of the most deadly cancers affecting women.

To illustrate this point, consider the five-year survival rate for
these cancers:

Early detection is key

Why is the survival rate for ovarian cancer low relative compared to other types of cancer? When ovarian cancer is detected
at an early stage, the prognosis is vastly improved. About 94 per cent of patients live longer than five years when it’s
found early at a localized stage. The issue is that
only about 20 per cent of ovarian cancers are detected at an early stage. Early detection is difficult because there
are usually no symptoms during the early stages of the disease. Common symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, difficulty
eating and frequent or urgent urination. However, they initially tend to be associated with other, less serious conditions.
By the time doctors or patients consider as cancer the cause, the disease has typically spread beyond the ovaries.

Cancers with metastases are much harder to treat. It’s crucial to pay attention to any abnormal symptoms, particularly if
they occur daily for a prolonged period and can’t be explained by other conditions. You should consult with a healthcare
professional immediately. This can improve the odds of early diagnosis and successful treatment.

Are you at risk?

While all women have some degree of risk for ovarian cancer, certain factors
increase the risk. These include:

  • Age — Ovarian cancer is more common in women between 50 and 79.
  • Family history — Risk is increased for women who have a family history of ovarian, breast, endometrial or
    colorectal cancer.
  • Reproductive history — Risk is higher for women who have not delivered a child or have had difficulty getting
  • Ethnicity — Jewish women of Eastern European background have a higher risk, and French Canadian women may
    be at higher risk.
  • Genetic mutations — There’s an increased risk for women who have certain mutations associated with ovarian
    cancer, like BRCA gene mutations.

Preventing misdiagnosis

Because the symptoms of ovarian cancer are similar to those of other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative
colitis, the disease can easily be misdiagnosed. In fact, it’s called “the silent killer” because its symptoms are not
very obvious or specific to the disease.

Raising awareness about the disease, through Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, for example, helps women recognize and monitor
symptoms and encourages them to be proactive as soon as they suspect something may be wrong. It’s also important for
women to recognize whether they’re at a higher risk for ovarian cancer, which may help them become more in tune with
specific symptoms.

A second opinion service like Best Doctors that draws on top cancer experts can be very helpful in preventing misdiagnosis
with a disease that is known to be difficult to diagnose. Especially in cases where early detection can quite literally
mean a second chance.

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