What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer?
The strongest risk factor for ovarian cancer is family history. If you have a first degree relative (mother, sister, daughter, and/or aunt) who has or has had ovarian cancer, talk to your health care provider about your testing options. Risk factors also include a family history of other types of cancer (breast, ovarian, endometrial, colon or pancreatic cancer).
What are the tests available today?
The following tests may play an important role in early detection, particularly for individuals at high risk, but have not been proven as screening tests.
A pelvic examination may happen at your periodic health exam, but the other tests listed below are typically reserved for high risk women or women with a few worrisome symptoms.
- Apelvic examination is a physical examination during which your health care provider feels your ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus by inserting one or two gloved fingers into your vagina. With their other hand they will push gently on the lower part of your belly and check for any abnormalities.
- Atransvaginal ultrasound involves having a transducer (probe) inserted into your vagina to produce images of your ovaries. This test cannot tell the difference between a cancerous and non-cancerous mass and therefore produces a high rate of false-positives.
- CA 125is a tumour marker that leaks out of cancer cells and can be measured in the blood. For a woman at high risk of developing ovarian cancer, her CA125 is measured and then her levels are checked twice a year and compared to her baseline.
What is my chance of getting the disease and then dying from it?
During their lifetime, 1 in 72 Canadian women will develop ovarian cancer and 1 in 87 will die from it.
What is the current recommendation?
Speak with your health care provider if you experience symptoms that last for more than 2 weeks or are happening at least 12 times per month. In its early stages, ovarian cancer may cause a wide range of symptoms, from back pain to constipation to fatigue, which are very common and can make it difficult to distinguish from the normal experience. Pelvic or abdominal pain, increased urinary frequency or urgency, abdominal bloating, and difficulty eating (feeling full), although still common, are somewhat more specific to ovarian cancer. This is the challenge of ovarian cancer as the symptoms can be hard to distinguish from the normal experience, yet many women have advanced cases of the disease at the time of diagnosis. Early detection increases a person’s chance of survival.