More women die of ovarian cancer than any other gynecologic cancer. While testing methods are available, screening is not recommended for asymptomatic women who do not have a high risk of developing this cancer. Those who are at high risk of getting this cancer, however, need to follow the screening guidelines set forth by their OBGYN.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
Women should be screened for ovarian cancer if they develop any of the symptoms of the disease. Common symptoms include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating and feeling full sooner than normal. The urge to urinate often or urgently can also be a sign of ovarian cancer.
Women might also experience extreme fatigue, heartburn, an upset stomach, menstrual changes and constipation. Pain during sex can also occur for women who have ovarian cancer.
When should symptoms be addressed?
These symptoms do not necessarily mean the woman has ovarian cancer. For example, fatigue could be a sign of a common sleep disorder, while menstrual changes might be due to fibroids or another health issue.
However, if the symptoms persist after normal interventions, women need to see their OBGYN. It is important to act quickly since symptoms usually do not present until the later stages of the disease. The OBGYN will order a screening to determine if ovarian cancer is the cause of the symptoms. If cancer is ruled out, the OBGYN will run additional tests to determine the source of the problem.
Screening tests for people at high risk for cancer
Women who have hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome are at a high risk of developing the disease and need to undergo screening. Women who have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation have this syndrome.
There are several tests available, but OBGYNs usually recommend the CA-125 blood test or a transvaginal ultrasound.
CA-125 blood test
Advanced epithelial ovarian cancers usually produce the CA-125 protein. Because of that, this is a common marker used for screening. A small percentage of post-menopausal women also produce this protein, so instead of simply trying to detect the protein, many physicians measure the CA-125 protein over time.
Women at high risk for ovarian cancer can also undergo transvaginal ultrasounds. These ultrasounds are recommended each year. This is currently considered the gold standard of ovarian cancer screening.
Some OBGYNs recommend that patients undergo both the CA-125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound. While the combination of tests can have a false positive, the tests also make it easier for physicians to detect the cancer in the early stages.
Do not ignore ovarian cancer symptoms
If you have symptoms or at a high risk of developing ovarian cancer, do not wait until it is too late to get help. Speak to your OGBYN about your concerns and get the necessary screening tests. Researchers continue to make the screening tests more effective, and they can save your life.
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