Ovarian Cancer – Spreading Awareness Together
Cancer can be devastating for those who are touched by it. Whether a diagnosis is given to a family member, friend, co-worker, or of course yourself, we can all agree cancer can rock your mind, body, and soul inside-out. In light of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, which is in September, I’d like to share some eye-opening statistics, factors that increase a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer, and ways we can try to reduce our risk.
Things to Consider
Did you know 14,000 women die each year from ovarian cancer? This is an alarming number, especially considering half of the women who develop ovarian cancer are under 60. Here’s another shocker: pap smears do NOT detect ovarian cancer. I’m sure this is upsetting to many women, including myself, since I thought my yearly trips to the gynecologist inherently included cancer screenings on top of STD testing and our general wellness check up. It’s no wonder only 15% of ovarian cancers are diagnosed at stage 1– we didn’t know we had to ask for a separate test. Given that most women don’t “look forward” to the uncomfortable conversations at their yearly exams, this is something we need to be bringing up in addition to the routine Q&A, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel.
Period Pain or Cancer?
Now think about it for a second. If most women are under the impression that they’re being screened for cancer at their yearly exams, then there doesn’t seem to be a reason to bring up telltale symptoms of ovarian cancer, which many women would commonly attribute to aunt flow. Speaking of symptoms, let’s take a look at what they are:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
- Upset stomach
- Back pain
- Pain during sex
- Constipation or menstrual changes
Out of these nine signs of ovarian cancer, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of women could confuse at least six of these symptoms with their monthly menstrual cycle, and a few others with a UTI. So ladies, please listen to your body and don’t feel shy bringing up any of these symptoms to your OB/GYN, and ask about getting screened for ovarian cancer if you have any inkling of these symptoms.
Genetic Factors to Look Into
Along with being proactive regarding these (confusing) symptoms by chatting up your gynecologist and stating any abnormalities in the exam room, ask your family about any history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, and report any findings to your doctor. And whether or not you have a history, it’s smart to get tested for the genetic mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genetic mutations greatly increase a woman’s risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. If you end up testing positive for either mutation, your doctor will be able to better identify any symptoms you’re having (if any), and take the proper steps to monitor your health. He or she may recommend oral contraceptives as one way to reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer. Oral contraceptives also seem to reduce this risk especially for women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. To find out if you have the mutation, you can be tested with a simple blood sample.
Be Wary of Products
In the heat of the summer, it may seem like a good idea to grab some scented feminine wipes to use after the gym or dust yourself with a light powder in the morning to stay fresh down below. Or, perhaps you’re under the impression that during your menstrual cycle, you should be using scented tampons. To be honest, the marketing of feminine products can be confusing and even misleading, especially for the unsuspecting consumer. But, the vagina is self-cleaning, so scented tampons, feminine washes, and powders are totally unnecessary to keeping the vagina healthy and fresh, and can actually cause harm down below.
Not only do scented products of any kind, including scented tampons, kill the good bacteria that should be in the vagina, but these products allow the bad bacteria to overgrow. Dusting baby powder on your nether regions to stay fresh can also cause problems of a different kind. Numerous scientific studies and juries have found a direct link between talc and ovarian cancer, and doctors have associated the mineral with lung problems as well. If you’d like to dust yourself with a light powder to stay comfortable, try cornstarch, arrowroot, or rice powder. These have all been found safe for women and baby, and many brands have switched to these alternative minerals. Whether or not you choose to use any feminine products, remember that it’s recommended to use simply use a mild, unscented soap and warm water to clean your nether region.
We all know exercise has wonderful benefits, but did you know that keeping a healthy weight could reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer? If you’re like millions of Americans, this can take some motivation! Let’s break things down. Studies from the Mayo Clinic suggest 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week. I know that sounds like a lot at first glance, but if you think about it, that’s a brisk walk around your neighborhood for only 30 minutes a day Monday-Friday! Not only can keeping a healthy weight reduce your risk of ovarian cancer, but exercise helps to balance out the neurotransmitters in your brain that affect mood as well as mental function!
Keep the Conversation Going
I hope this was helpful information and you share some life-saving information with loved ones everywhere since the more we know about our health, the better off we are! We can do small things to spread awareness. Text some girlfriends and ask if they know about the early symptoms of ovarian cancer, and if not, tell them. Call your family members and suggest you go for a walk together to keep active. Share information on genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 on social media for your followers and their families. Let’s all work together to help spread the word on common symptoms of ovarian cancer and ways we can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer for women all over the world. Remember, talk to your gynecologist if you have any questions or concerns about ovarian cancer.