The background

Bloating. Pelvic pain. Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly. Frequent or urgent urination. These symptoms are fairly common and could be caused by many things. However, they could also be symptoms of ovarian cancer, especially if they are unusual for you and persist for more than two weeks.

This year, 22,280 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and 14,240 women will die of it. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among U.S. women and the number one cause of gynecologic cancer deaths. Currently there is no early detection test for ovarian cancer. Despite the common misperception, Pap tests detect cervical cancer, not ovarian. With no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer, it is important to know the symptoms and your risks.

Risks and responses

All women are at risk – overall, a woman’s lifetime risk is 1 in 75. However, some women are at increased risk: those with a family or personal history of ovarian, breast or colon cancer; postmenopausal women; and women who have never been pregnant or given birth. Genetic mutations, like BRCA1 and BRCA2, also increase a woman’s likelihood of developing ovarian cancer.

“Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among U.S. women...”

Most of these factors are hard to avoid, so how can someone prevent ovarian cancer? Although there is no foolproof way to prevent the disease, women can reduce the risk of developing it. Research has shown women who use oral contraceptives for five or more years have about a 50 percent lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. Full-term pregnancy and breastfeeding may also lower your risk. Having your ovaries and fallopian tubes removed also reduces your risk.

We need more research, more support for women living with ovarian cancer and improved access to health care to be sure that every woman has the resources she needs to detect and treat ovarian cancer.