Ovarian cancer symptoms can be difficult to spot. Often, ovarian cancer isn’t diagnosed until the cancer has advanced to stage III or IV. This makes it tougher for doctors to treat. Knowing ovarian cancer symptoms and the risk factors are the best ways to fight against ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer risk factors
Many factors influence the development of ovarian cancer. But certain qualities and traits can put you at increased risk.
“The general population’s risk for ovarian cancer is low,” says Karen Lu, M.D., chair of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine at MD Anderson. “But for some women who have a family history, that risk is so much higher. It’s a big difference, so knowing your family history and considering genetic testing can be very powerful.”
Ovarian cancer risk factors include:
- Women with a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer may have a certain genetic difference called BRCA1 or BRCA2, both commonly called BRCA. Having this genetic mutation can increase the chances that you will develop ovarian cancer. Other inherited cancer syndromes, including Lynch syndrome, could increase ovarian cancer risk
- Never being pregnant is a risk factor.
Steps to lower your ovarian cancer risk
“There are a few ways to lower your ovarian cancer risk, but many women don’t know about them,” Lu says. “Basically, anything that stops ovulation for a time, like birth control pills, pregnancy or breastfeeding, can lower the average woman’s ovarian cancer risk.”
Researchers believe that regular ovulation may increase ovarian cancer risk because it damages the lining of the ovaries so the ovary cells need to be repaired frequently. This can increase the chance for cancer-causing changes to occur.
Identifying ovarian cancer symptoms isn’t easy,” Lu says. But finding it earlier is one of the best ways to beat it.
Ovarian cancer symptoms
Ovarian cancer symptoms are often vague. And they can vary from woman to woman. Ovarian cancer symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea, diarrhea, constipation or frequent urination
- Unexplained weight change
- Pain during sex
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
“Most women know what feels normal to them. If any of these symptoms last more than two weeks, talk to your doctor,” Lu says. “In most cases, it’s probably not ovarian cancer, but your doctor should at least consider the possibility.”
A blood test called the CA-125 and a transvaginal ultrasound can help diagnose ovarian cancer.
“Identifying ovarian cancer symptoms isn’t easy,” Lu says. “But finding it earlier is one of the best ways to beat it.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 888-774-3020.