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Bodily Changes Can Signal Ovarian Cancer

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There are five main types of cancer that affect a woman’s reproductive organs: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar (outer area).

The most deadly of those is ovarian. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2015, about 21,290 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer and an estimated 14,180 women will die from the disease. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women.

Ovarian cancer is especially frightening, because there are no reliable ways to test or screen for it in women with no signs or symptoms. There is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, either.

However, there are some things that may lower your risk, such as having used birth control pills for more than five years, having given birth, or having had a tubal ligation, both ovaries removed or a hysterectomy.

What you can do is pay attention to your body, and know what is normal for you. Possible symptoms include vaginal bleeding or discharge that is abnormal for you, pain in the pelvis or abdominal area, back pain, bloating, feeling full quickly while eating, or a change in bathroom habits.

If you notice any bodily changes that are not normal for you or if you have unexplained signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, have had breast, uterine or colorectal (colon) cancer, or a close relative has had ovarian cancer, ask your doctor if you should have a diagnostic test.

Several factors may increase a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer, including: being middle-aged or older, having an Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish background, having never given birth or having had trouble getting pregnant, or having endometriosis.

Some studies indicate taking estrogen without progesterone during menopause for 10 or more years also may increase your risk.

If diagnosed with ovarian cancer, ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist — a doctor who treats cancers of a woman’s reproductive system. Treatment depends on the type and kind of cancer and how far it has spread. Treatment may include a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.

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