March Is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
The month of March usually signifies the start of winter’s end and the very beginning of spring. This is a time of renewal, growth, and new beginnings. It’s also an important time to check up on our health, especially since it is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
The month of September has also been recently proclaimed as National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in the United States, but March has been known as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month around the world for some time. Whether it is in March or September, this is an important time to raise awareness about ovarian cancer and educate people on its risks.
In this article, we’ll explain what ovarian cancer is, ovarian cancer signs and symptoms, why Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is important and more.
What Is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a form of cancer that occurs in women due to uncontrolled and abnormal cell growth in the ovaries. The ovaries are a set of glands that are two of the most important organs in the female reproductive system. The ovaries have three main functions:
- They hold and protect the eggs that a female is born with
- They release the eggs for possible fertilization
- They create and secrete hormones like estrogen and progesterone, both of which play an important role in the development of female traits, the menstrual cycle, fertility, and pregnancy
If ovarian cancer develops, it can impact the function and performance of the ovaries and create other issues within the female reproductive system and the body as a whole.
Types of Ovarian Cancer
There are three main types of ovarian cancer, and each type has its own characteristics and traits. The three main types of ovarian cancer include:
- Epithelial ovarian carcinomas – These are the most common type of ovarian cancer and involve cancer cells covering the outer surface of the ovary. This accounts for about 90% of all ovarian cancers. These cancerous cells often then spread to the organs and lining of the abdomen and pelvis, and then to other parts of the body from there. Around 70% of women who develop this type of ovarian cancer are diagnosed in advanced stages of the disease.
- Germ cell tumors – These tumors account for less than 2% of all ovarian cancers and they begin in a woman’s reproductive cells, more commonly known as “eggs.” Females in their teens and 20s are more likely to develop this type of ovarian cancer, and 90% of individuals diagnosed with germ cell tumors survive at least 5 years after diagnosis.
- Stromal cell tumors – These tumors account for around 1% of all cases of ovarian cancer and form in the tissues that support the ovaries. This type of ovarian cancer is often found in the early stages, with vaginal bleeding being the most common sign.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Symptoms of ovarian cancer may not be present even if cancerous cells have developed. Symptoms can also differ depending on the specific type of ovarian cancer. However, ovarian cancer signs usually include one or more of the following symptoms:
- Pressure and/or pain in the pelvic area
- Abdominal or back pain
- Weight loss
- Having difficulty eating or feeling full too quickly
- Changes in your bathroom habits, like more urgent or frequent needs to urinate and/or constipation
- Vaginal bleeding or other vaginal discharge that is not normal for you (especially if you are past menopause)
Many of these symptoms may be caused by something else besides ovarian cancer, but the only way to know for sure is to visit your healthcare provider. That’s why it’s crucial to pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you, and seek medical attention if you notice any irregularities.
Ovarian Cancer Treatments
There are various treatments available for women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. These treatments depend on the specific type and stage of the cancer, and may be combined with one another. Some of the most common treatments include:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy (like monoclonal antibody therapy)
Why Is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month Important?
Now that we’ve covered what ovarian cancer is, its signs and symptoms, and some of the treatments that are used, let’s look at why Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is so important:
March is used as a time to highlight ovarian cancer and educate women about the disease. This includes knowing how ovarian cancer develops, the signs and symptoms, and the risk factors. Since we’ve already discussed what ovarian cancer is and the symptoms that can arise, let’s look at the risk factors of the disease:
- Being middle-aged or older—two-thirds of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over the age of 55
- Having never given birth or having struggled to get pregnant
- Having a close relative—like a mother, sister, aunt, or grandmother—who has had ovarian cancer
- Having a genetic mutation/inherited gene change, like BRCA1 or BRCA2, or others associated with Lynch syndrome
- According to studies, approximately 10 to 25% of all ovarian cancers are thought to be “hereditary”
- Having had uterine, colorectal, or breast cancer
- Having endometriosis—a condition that involves tissue from the lining of the uterus growing elsewhere in the body
These risk factors could impact the likelihood of developing ovarian cancer. That’s why it’s important to be aware of them, pay attention to your body, and talk with your healthcare provider about potential risks.
Additionally, there are various stages of ovarian cancer that factor into the severity of the disease and the potential treatments that are used. These stages change based on the size and location of the tumor, and include:
- Stage I – This is the least advanced stage of ovarian cancer, when cancer cells are only present in your ovaries
- Stage II – In this stage, the cancer has progressed to other organs near your ovaries—like your uterus or fallopian tubes—but it hasn’t reached your lymph nodes or organs in distant parts of your body
- Stage III – The cancer has spread to other organs like your uterus or bladder, as well as being present in the lymph nodes behind your stomach and/or your stomach lining
- Stage IV – The most advanced stage of ovarian cancer means that cancer has spread to your distant organs and tissue, including your lungs, skin, and even your brain
Each year, around 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed and over 14,000 deaths are attributed to the disease. Because ovarian cancer is usually caught in advanced stages, it has a relatively high fatality rate and makes up 5% of all cancer-related deaths in the U.S. each year.
That means if ovarian cancer goes undetected, it can quickly lead to health issues and advanced stages of the disease. This brings us to another reason why Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is so important: screenings.
Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month also serves as a reminder for women to get screened for ovarian cancer. Screenings for ovarian cancer start with pelvic examinations during which your healthcare provider checks your internal pelvic organs for any lumps or swelling. These examinations should be completed each year to ensure you stay healthy and safe.
If something concerning is found during a pelvic examination, it may be recommended to follow up with an ultrasound, blood tests, and a biopsy (if a tumor is found). Biopsies involve taking a sample of tissue and sending it to a lab for testing. However, biopsies for ovarian cancer are most commonly done by removing the tumor during surgery.
Pelvic examinations generally start at the age of 21. These screenings, examinations, and procedures are helpful in catching the early stages of ovarian cancer. That’s why it’s so important to schedule yearly examinations to check for ovarian cancer. If you’ve forgotten to do this, Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is the perfect time to schedule an appointment!
Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is a great time to educate yourself further on the risks of ovarian cancer. It’s also a perfect time to schedule an examination to get checked. At MyAlly Health, we offer annual pelvic examinations to help check for signs of ovarian cancer and ensure your reproductive system is healthy. The examination may be low-cost or even free for you, so talk to us today about getting screened for ovarian cancer. You can even get a $25 gift card for completing a pelvic examination!
MyAlly Health offers confidential reproductive health services to women and men in the Grand Forks, North Dakota area, regardless of income or age. This includes preventive care, like getting tested for STIs, breast examinations, and pelvic examinations; determining the best birth control for you; and even getting vaccinated against the flu. The clinical services we provide are all performed by Nurse Practitioners and Resident Physicians.
In order to empower and engage individuals in their well-being and reproductive health, MyAlly Health offers education, counseling, advocacy, and healthcare services. Find out more about what we do, help make a difference by donating to our cause, or schedule an appointment with us today!
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