Ovaries are small glands on each side of the uterus responsible for producing eggs as well as the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. In ovarian cancer, a mutation in the genetic material of ovarian cells leads to uncontrolled, abnormal cell growth.
Warning signs of ovarian cancer may include:
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Feeling full quickly after a meal
- Urinary symptoms such as urgency or frequency
- Lower back pain
- Pain during sex
- Menstrual periods, such as heavier or irregular bleeding
- Weight loss
Since many of these symptoms may also be caused by noncancerous diseases, it is best to consult your doctor to confirm a diagnosis. Your doctor will perform a thorough physical exam, sonography, blood test and, if required, a computed tomography (CT) scan to check for tumors in the ovaries.
What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer?
Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:
- Genes: Certain genetic conditions:
- History of cancer: Particularly a history of breast cancer, uterine cancer, or colorectal cancer.
- Age: The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age.
- Tobacco and alcohol: Smoking has been linked to a particular type of ovarian cancer, with studies showing that women who smoke are three times more likely to develop ovarian cancer. It is unclear whether alcohol consumption increases ovarian cancer risk, as the evidence is inconclusive.
- Reproductive health: Women who start menstruating earlier (before 12 years of age), get menopause later (after 50 years of age), and/or undergo hormone replacement therapy.
- Late pregnancy: Women who gave birth to their first child after the age of 35 or those who have never carried a pregnancy to term.
- Fertility treatment: Fertility medications seem to increase the risk of a certain type of ovarian tumor.
- Talcum powder: Studies show that talcum powder applied to the genital area or on sanitary napkins could potentially travel through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovary and cause ovarian cancer.
- Obesity: Obesity alters the hormonal balance of the body and is linked to many answers.
- Co-existing health conditions: Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis increases the risk of ovarian cancer. Type II diabetes mellitus is also known to moderately increase ovarian cancer risk.
Of course, it’s important to remember that ovarian cancer may develop even in the absence of any risk factors. Similarly, the presence of one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that someone will definitely develop the condition.
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