September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. We are joining the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) in raising awareness of ovarian cancer and its symptoms.

In Michigan in 2017, the MDHHS estimates there will be 790 cases diagnosed, and 500 women will die from ovarian cancer.

Studies have shown that the warning signs of ovarian cancer are subtle. 90 percent of women with ovarian cancer report symptoms, even at the early stages.

Four symptoms have been found to occur most often:

  • significant bloating
  • pelvic and abdominal pain
  • difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • urinary symptoms such as feelings of frequency or urgency

If any of these symptoms are new and unusual and occur at least 12 times in one month, see a doctor, preferably a gynecologist.

Behaviors which may decrease the risk of ovarian cancer include: use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills), the surgical removal of fallopian tubes and/or ovaries, and breastfeeding.

Additionally, several factors may increase the risk of ovarian cancer:

  • Personal or family history of ovarian, breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer. About 20-25 percent of ovarian cancer is hereditary. Any female who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer should be referred to a genetic counselor.
  • Increased number of menstrual cycles in a lifetime (never had children, late menopause, etc.).
  • Infertility, regardless of whether or not fertility drugs were used.
  • Use of hormone replacement therapy.
  • Increasing age, although ovarian cancer affects all ages and all ethnic groups.
  • Obesity.

Because there is no screening test, only 10 to 15 percent of ovarian cancers are diagnosed early when treatment is most effective. Knowing your body and what symptoms to watch for is important to detect ovarian cancer as early as possible.