Did you know that in the United States, one in 78 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer within their lifetime? With the goal of early detection, National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is aimed at spreading awareness of the signs and symptoms of the disease. The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age, peaking around age 70, which makes the senior community a high-risk population. Over 50 percent of new cases are diagnosed after age 65, and over 70 percent of deaths from cancer occur in this same age group. The good news is that if ovarian cancer is detected at its earliest stage, the five-year survival rate is over 93%. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are easily confused with benign ailments, therefore education is key.
What do seniors and caregivers need to know about ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer attacks women of all races, and at all stages of life. According to the Ovarian Cancer Awareness Coalition, there are several factors that may put you or a loved one at a higher risk. A personal history of cancer, or a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, are at the top of this list. Women who have never been pregnant, and women undergoing menopausal hormone replacement therapy are also at a higher risk. The last risk factor is age. The chance of developing ovarian cancer spikes with age so dramatically that “women over 55” is formally listed as a risk factor.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer can often be subtle. They may include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and feeling the need to urinate urgently or often. Additional symptoms may include fatigue, upset stomach, heartburn, back pain, constipation, diarrhea, or shortness of breath. The signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are admittedly very vague, and this why only about 19 percent of ovarian cancer is detected in the early stages. When women over the age of 55 experience any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, it is imperative to see their doctor. In home caregivers may be able to spot these symptoms and help facilitate diagnosis.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, a simple trip to your doctor might be a life-saving measure. Your doctor can perform a routine physical examination to determine the need for further testing. One of the first procedures may be to palpate your abdomen to look for discomfort or abnormal fluid. This is traditionally followed by a pelvic examination and a blood test.
The CA-125 blood test is a lifesaving tool doctors use for early detection. CA-125 is a protein found in normal cell tissue, and cloaked onto the surface of ovarian cancer cells. High levels can be an indicator of ovarian cancer, or other medical conditions. Your doctor may also perform a TVUS (transvaginal ultrasound) to examine the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries for any unusual masses. This screening test can detect tumors, and if one is detected a biopsy will determine whether the mass is cancerous or benign.
Ovarian cancer is known for its “silent symptoms”. Reread the list of symptoms, take note of these indicators, and see your doctor if symptoms persist.
If a cancer diagnosis is making it difficult for you or a loved one to accomplish daily tasks, please reach out to Pennsylvania Agency of Nurses. Our caregivers use a combination of skill, competence, and compassion to serve our clients.