World Ovarian Cancer Day:
A Chance to Learn & Raise Awareness
Since 2013, early May has served as the time for women with ovarian cancer, their families, and their support groups to raise awareness for the disease that has the lowest survival rate out of all female cancers. May 8th is World Ovarian Cancer Day, an initiative rooted in patient advocacy and awareness that we can all join in and support.
Even if you have no direct or indirect connection to ovarian cancer, you should still take time to learn what the disease is, its symptoms and possible causes, and ways you can actively lower your risk. Women 63 years and older account for half of all diagnoses, so now is the time to take extra precautions for your health.
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer encompasses multiple types of malignant tumors that originate in the ovaries. These tumors can develop on the surface of the ovaries, in the structural tissue, or in the eggs. 14,000 women die of this type of cancer each year, but the good news is that the diagnosis rate has been on a steady decline.
If diagnosed in the early stages, the survival rate of ovarian cancer is 70% or higher. But, most diagnoses take place once the cancer spreads and reaches the later stages. This can cause survival rates to be as low as 17%.
What are the signs & symptoms?
Ovarian cancer symptoms and warning signs can often mirror less serious health conditions, so it’s important not to overlook any symptoms that may arise. Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Difficulty eating or loss of appetite
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Persistent bloating
- Frequent urination
What are the risk factors?
Ovarian cancer risk factors are made up of those you can actively combat and others that are out of your control. Common risk factors include:
Age - As you get older, your risk of ovarian cancer increases. Although younger women can get diagnosed, the disease is most common in those ages 50-79.
Family history - If you have a family history of breast, colorectal, or ovarian cancer, your risk is also heightened. These cancers may be linked to an inherited gene mutation that can cause multiple relatives to battle the disease. Between 5 to 10% of ovarian cancers are due to these mutations.
Obesity - Having a high body mass index (BMI), or being overweight, can increase your risk of ovarian cancer. If you’ve already gone through menopause and did not use menopausal hormone therapy, the risk between obesity and the disease is even higher.
Reproductive history - If you’ve had a full-term pregnancy, your risk of ovarian cancer is reduced. On the flip side, your risk is greater if you’ve never given birth.
What can I do to lower my risk?
There are steps you and your loved ones can take to prevent ovarian cancer. Due to the prevalence of late stage diagnoses, make it a priority to regularly check in with your doctor. Adopt these habits to lower your risk:
Avoid talc-based products - Studies have shown a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, the common ingredient found in hygiene products like baby powder. The connection was first seen in 1971 when researchers discovered that 75% of ovarian cancer tumors contained talc particles. Today, thousands of women have filed legal claims against Johnson & Johnson for the role its Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower products played in their cancer diagnosis. If your hygiene products contain talcum powder, consider switching to talc-free options that will likely say so on the label.
Exercise regularly - With the knowledge that a high BMI can increase your ovarian cancer risk, make it a priority to exercise regularly. Consider brisk walking, step workouts, and swimming for low-impact options that will benefit your waistline.
Get genetic testing - If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, you may want to consider genetic testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. These mutations can be inherited from either parent, and carriers have a 10 to 60% risk throughout their life of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Knowing whether or not you have the gene mutation can provide the encouragement you need to get regular screenings and checkups.
How can I get involved?
Although World Ovarian Cancer Day only happens once a year, there are still ways you can actively remain involved in raising awareness and providing education. Check out this global movement to see the impact you can have.