Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: The Silent Killer Among Us!

I've always loved teal for the sense of calm and tranquility that it instills. That said, this month, wearing teal has an even deeper purpose other than its beauty: September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

All color-related musings aside, ovarian cancer is an extremely serious disease. Though it only accounts for 3% of all cancers in women, according to the CDC, ovarian cancer causes more deaths each year than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. In 2013 alone, there were an estimated 22,000 cases of ovarian cancer resulting in about 14,000 deaths (ourbodiesourselves.org). These shocking statistics make it clear that ovarian cancer awareness is of utmost importance.

There is no clear cause for ovarian cancer, but certain factors can definitely increase your risk. These factors include age (older women are more likely to develop the disease), genetics (presence of a specific gene mutation), family history of ovarian or breast cancer, and previous medical conditions in the reproductive system. Additionally, the use of fertility treatments, estrogen hormone replacement therapy, and lack of pregnancy have also been shown to increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

One of the reasons that ovarian cancer is so deadly is that in its early stages, it rarely causes any symptoms. Unfortunately, this means that it often goes undetected until it's too late, when the cancer has already spread to the pelvis and abdomen.

If that wasn't scary enough, the late stage symptoms that do begin to appear can very easily be mistaken for non-threatening conditions like bloating, swelling, weight loss, discomfort in pelvis, frequent urination, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome, to name a few. Consequently, even when late stage symptoms begin to appear, many women do not realize the danger. It is for that reason that ovarian cancer is often called a silent killer and for that reason that awareness and education about ovarian cancer needs to be a major priority.   

In addition, diagnosing the disease is rather difficult, but can be done through various imaging tests, blood tests, and eventually, exploratory surgery to confirm the condition as well as to ascertain the stage of the cancer.

Unfortunately, treatments for ovarian cancer are rather limited. Once ovarian cancer is at the late stage, it becomes extremely difficult to treat and is frequently fatal.  However, if diagnosed at an early stage (when the cancer is still confined to the ovary), it can be successfully treated with the removal of the ovaries and nearby reproductive organs, followed by chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells.  The earlier the cancer is discovered, the less extensive the surgery and the greater the chance at success.  As such, early detection is absolutely critical.

There is no sure way to totally prevent ovarian cancer, but certain factors have been associated with lower risk such as the use of oral contraceptives, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. Nonetheless, the best thing that you can do to protect yourself if you think that you might be at risk is to be checked regularly by your doctor.

Help spread awareness of ovarian cancer by being informed, educating others, and wearing lots of teal! You'll look gorgeous doing it!

For more information on ovarian cancer, check out two articles from our September/October issue of The Women’s Health Activist:

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