Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system, and it’s the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Like any cancer, early detection and diagnosis are key for treatment to be the most effective, but ovarian cancer has the added challenge of often being difficult to detect until it’s in later stages.
The ovaries are two small structures that are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries and uterus should be examined each year as part of a woman’s annual pelvic exam. But because they are so small, it can be difficult to know if there is abnormal enlargement due to ovarian cancer until later stages. This, however, doesn’t mean that you should skip out on annual well woman exams — regular exams help your healthcare provider to have a better idea of what’s normal for you and take note of any changes, and many different screening tests are done for ovarian and other reproductive cancers.
So what can you do to protect your health? Tell your doctor if you have a family history of ovarian, reproductive, or breast cancers. Keep an eye out for any unusual changes in your body — changes in bathroom habits, back pain, pelvic or stomach pain, abnormal bleeding or discharge, and feeling full and bloated can all be signs of ovarian or other gynecologic cancers. If you have a family history or are experiencing unusual symptoms, your doctor may want to do an ultrasound or additional blood tests.