Hey Moms! It’s your ovaries here; just checking in. We haven’t had much time to get together since your last pregnancy. Work is crazy again for us – releasing eggs left and right to meet our monthly goals. Nonetheless, it’s been far too long, and I think we both deserve some “girl” time!
Now, I know ovarian cancer might not be on your list of daily thoughts with all the kiddos running around, but it certainly is on our minds often enough. Just last year, 22,000 women were diagnosed with the disease in the United States alone. Is no ovary safe anymore?
Ovarian cancer kills over 14,000 women per year. It is the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers, and yet no one seems to know much about it. As your loyal ovaries, we decided it’s time to reduce this knowledge gap once and for all! So, let’s start with the basics. Ovarian cancer attacks us, your beloved ovaries, and sometimes your gynecologic oncologist or another medical professional will also find it in your fallopian tubes. Here’s the thing, though – cancer spreads, so not only do we get sick, but other organs in your body can be susceptible to its poison as the cancer progresses. In its most advanced stage, it’s been known to reach the brain. Nothing is safe when it comes to ovarian cancer.
Now you’re probably thinking, “Don’t worry ovaries! That’s at its worst. I would never let it get that bad.” Well, the majority of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer would tell you otherwise. Only 15% of women are diagnosed at Stage 1 of this disease where treatment has its highest survival rates. See, ovarian cancer is often called a “whispering disease.” While it does have physical symptoms, most women don’t notice them. Common symptoms often include bloating, fatigue, constipation, menstrual changes, back pain, pain in the pelvis or abdomen, the need to urinate frequently, and pain during sex. Most women relate these symptoms to their period or assume they are new symptoms accompanying menopause. They don’t tell their doctor about it, so an early diagnosis becomes near impossible.
So, it’s definitely time to reconnect with your whole body to learn what’s normal and identify new, abnormal symptoms that your doctor should be aware of. I know you’re a strong, amazing, supermom, and sometimes telling your doctor that you feel bloated seems like you’re just complaining, but it could actually be a sign of something more serious. Tell your doctor and let them decide if it’s a symptom to be written off.
While all women are at risk for ovarian cancer, some women have a higher chance of developing the disease than others. It’s important to understand your own personal risk. Those who are most at risk include:
Women who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation. Yes, this is the breast cancer gene that pink-shirted women talk about frequently. However, it is also a high-risk indicator for ovarian cancer.
Women who have a history of breast, colorectal, or cervical cancer have a greater risk for ovarian cancer.
Women whose family have a history of breast or ovarian cancer are more at risk and should get tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.
Women over age forty and those reaching post-menopause are most likely to develop the disease as well. Nearly 50% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over the age of sixty.
Naturally, these risks can’t be changed. Your age, your genes, your medical history – they are pretty permanent, but your risk level doesn’t have to be. There are ways to reduce your chances of developing ovarian cancer. For example, your weight can be a big factor. Women who have a BMI over 30 tend to have a higher risk for the disease and a more difficult time fighting it during treatment. If eating healthy for your waistline feels more like a chore, think of us, your darling ovaries instead. A healthy diet could be life-saving!
Recently in the news, they’ve been talking about baby powder and its relationship to ovarian cancer. Historically, women have used baby powder on their children for diaper rashes or on their own bodies for feminine hygiene purposes. Not all baby powder will give you cancer; the court case in the news and its predecessors focus on talc-based baby powder. Since the 1970s, talc particles have been found in many biopsied ovarian cancer tumors. While the actual relationship is still unclear, it’s better to be safe than sorry! It’s important to protect us and the rest of your body from harmful chemicals that could result in cancer.
I don’t mean to be a buzzkill, so let’s look at a way to reduce your risk that you’ve already experienced: pregnancy! Pregnancy and breastfeeding reduce your risk for ovarian cancer. Not only do you get a sweet newborn to take home from the hospital, but you protect us as well with each new kid! Ironically, another method of risk reduction is oral contraceptives; in fact, women who have taken oral contraceptives for five or more years can reduce their risk up to 50%. Women have also been known to reduce their risk through a hysterectomy or tubal ligation, though that’s a big decision that will take more time to figure out than this initial conversation.
Ovarian cancer is no joke, and as your friends, we just want you to be safe. You need to know your risk and start a conversation with your doctor about the dangers of ovarian cancer. Moms, make sure that you are doing everything you can to protect us because at the end of the day, if ovarian cancer develops, we aren’t the only ones suffering. Your family does too, so don’t be another statistic. Be proactive, and share this information with the other ovaries in your life today!
As a Health & Safety Investigator for ConsumerSafety.org, Caitlin Hoff uses her background in Industrial Design and her passion for health and wellness to educate consumers. She strives to help people make smart decisions affecting their personal health and that of their families. Her current aim is to spread awareness about ovarian cancer and the dangers it presents to women around the world. To learn more, visit the ovarian cancer page (https://www.consumersafety.org/health/ovarian-cancer/) at ConsumerSafety.org