We mark September as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness of this silent killer. By providing education, empowerment, and resources, lives can be saved, and one of them may be your own.
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Ovarian cancer originates in the ovaries and is not usually detected until it spreads throughout the body. It is the deadliest and second most commonly diagnosed female reproductive system cancer in the United States.
In this post, you'll find five examples of the importance of increasing awareness of ovarian cancer this September.
1. Ovarian Cancer Often Has Silent Symptoms
The tragedy of this disease is that it often goes undetected until it's too late. Many symptoms are not experienced until the disease has spread and becomes incurable. Still, there are some early signs that women should be aware of.
Common symptoms include:
• Change in bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation)
• Change in urinary urgency and frequency
• Abdominal pain
• Early food satiety
• Changes in menstruation
While many of these symptoms can be attributed to other, more benign conditions, it's important to note when they occur. Knowing what is "normal" for your body allows you to recognize the sounding of alarm bells when something is wrong.
During ovarian cancer awareness month, challenge yourself to keep a journal of how you feel on a typical day or when you experience unusual changes in your menstrual cycle, bowel habits, or urination. If you notice that changes regularly occur, be your best advocate and call your gynecologist or primary care doctor for a check-up.
2. There Are Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer
While you can't know for sure whether you will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, there are several risk factors that you should be aware of. If you have a history or family history of breast, ovarian, uterine, or colon cancer, you are at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
There are also genetic considerations. If you, or anyone in your family, has ever been diagnosed with Lynch Syndrome or tested positive for the genes BRCA 1 or BRCA 2, you may be at an especially heightened risk for the development of ovarian cancer.
An opportunity that may present itself during ovarian cancer awareness month is to reach out to your family. Ask them about their health history and stratify your risk for developing this disease. Talk to them about ovarian cancer awareness month and steps they can take to help protect themselves.
3. You Can Decrease Your Risk
Now that you know what the risk factors for ovarian cancer are. Let's talk about how you can reduce your risk of receiving this diagnosis.
Here are some of the ways the risk for ovarian cancer can be reduced:
• Using oral contraceptives or hormonal IUDs
• If you've had a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus)
• If you've had your fallopian tubes or ovaries removed
• If you've ever given birth to a child
• If you've ever breastfed a child
You cannot change certain things, like aging and your genetic makeup; however, incorporating lifestyle changes that include healthy eating, exercise, and fitness are proactive measures that may reduce the likelihood of being diagnosed with this disease.
Consider dedicating ovarian cancer awareness month to implementing one of these lifestyle modifications into your daily routine. Start walking during your lunch break, join a gym, or take fitness classes virtually at home.
Ask your provider about a referral to a dietitian or smoking cessation program so you can achieve your optimal health potential.
4. You Can Talk to Your Doctor About Screening Tools
Screening tools could help detect changes to the female reproductive system early and improve prognosis, survival rates, and positive patient outcomes.
The two most commonly used screening tools for ovarian cancer are the transvaginal ultrasound and the CA-125 blood test.
Transvaginal ultrasound is an outpatient procedure that allows visualization of internal reproductive organs, including the ovaries, to detect abnormal growths or masses.
The CA-125 blood test measures specific tumor markers in the blood and may be the impetus for a referral to an oncologist. It is significant to note that this blood test is more valuable for those who have already been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, as it allows a provider to determine the efficacy of a current treatment plan.
Perhaps the best way to screen for cancer is to attend your attend gynecology appointment and receive a complete pelvic exam and pap smear. Call your provider to mark ovarian cancer awareness month and confirm that your annual physical is scheduled.
5. If You're Struggling, There Is Help
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, help is available. Virtual and face-to-face support groups for patients and survivors, mental health professionals, and online resources for future planning and financial support are available for assistance.
The connection between the mind and body is powerful. Having opportunities to reconcile fears surrounding a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer, trauma related to survivorship or treatment, and caregiver-related stress are valuable resources when faced with uncertainty and anxiety.
Why Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month Is Important
Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all female reproductive system cancers and often spreads silently throughout the body before it is detected. Ovarian cancer awareness month is an opportunity to challenge ourselves and our loved ones to learn about our bodies, health histories, and how we can become our best advocates.
Feel comfortable advocating for yourself by learning and understanding early signs and symptoms, how to mitigate your risk factors, and what screening tools may be right for you. You are empowered to manifest your health destiny through education and understanding of your resources.
Ovarian cancer survivors, current patients, and caregivers should also be encouraged to obtain assistance through available channels and harness the mind-body connection by investing in their emotional and mental health.
September is ovarian cancer awareness month. Take care of yourself and use these 30 days to help save a life.