Ovarian cancer is the second most common type of gynecologic cancer in the U.S. It affects one to two of every 100 women. There are more than 30 different types of ovarian cancer, and each is classified based on the cells that are growing in the ovary, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
If a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer at Stage 1, she tends to do better and her chances of survival can certainly improve, Sarah DeFeo, Vice President, Scientific Affairs & Programs at the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance (OCRFA), says. However, patients don’t tend to be diagnosed in early stages because the symptoms are vague and can be caused by many other medical conditions, she adds.
Due to the fact that the sign of ovarian cancer can be confused with other illnesses, some of which are not serious at all, by the time a woman is referred to an oncologist, it may be too late. “It’s not uncommon for women to bounce around the medical system for that reason,” DeFeo says. “Some are lucky to have gone to a gynecologist for a routine check who may have noticed something.”
The problem is the signs are not necessarily gynecological. That’s why is crucial to know the risk factors. “Any woman can get it but most women won’t,” DeFeo says. Most women who develop ovarian cancer are post-menopausal.
The most significant risk factor for ovarian cancer is an inherited genetic mutation in one of two genes: breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) or breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2), according to OCRFA. Women with a close relative with ovarian cancer but no known genetic mutation still have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Other risk factors include not having any kids and never taking birth control pills. “Taking oral contraceptives for five years reduces the chance of developing ovarian cancer by 50 percent,” DeFeo says.