Women Should Watch for Signs of Ovarian Cancer as They Enter Menopause

Patient Expert

I was busy on another project, but from the other room, Dad called, "Dorian, turn on The Dr. Oz Show" Being the dutiful daughter, I did just that and found some worthwhile information that I this this community needs to know. The show's focus was on ovarian cancer. During the portion of the show that I watched, Dr. Oz joined with the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition to do a screening in a Dallas mall and to create an information sheet.

First of all, let's look at the facts about ovarian cancer. Checking different websites, there seems to be some confusion about ovarian cancer. The Cleveland Clinic website noted that ovarian cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths among women and occurs most often in women who are in their 50s.  However, Dr. Donnica Moore writes on the Dr. Oz Show website that ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women. She also notes that the average age that women are diagnosed with this kind of cancer is 63 and the average age of death is 71. She adds, however, that approximately 5% of women who are diagnosed with this type of cancer are 34 or under.

Although the Cleveland Clinic website notes that menopause isn't associated with an increased risk of cancer, the rate of ovarian cancer does increase as we age. And there may be a link between ovarian cancer and menopausal therapies. The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health warns that women who have taken hormone therapy are at a higher risk of ovarian cancer, based on a study of 910,000 women in Denmark that was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2009. This study reaffirms the results of earlier studies that have linked estrogen-alone therapy to the risk of this type of cancer. In addition, the National Cancer Institute stated, "There have also been hints of an increased risk from combination therapy, and these are now confirmed." Therefore, if you opt to use these menopausal therapies, you need to realize the risks associated with these treatments and should work with your doctor so that you take the smallest possible dose of hormone therapy for the shortest period of time.

Middle-age women should become diligent in watching for the subtle symptoms of this disease, which can easily be overlooked. According to National Institute of Cancer, the symptoms for the most common form of ovarian cancer can include:

  • Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back or legs;
  • A swollen or bloated abdomen;
  • Nausea, indigestion, gas constipation, or diarrhea;
  • Feeling very tired all the time;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Feeling the need to urinate often;
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding, such as heaving menstrual periods or bleeding after menopause.

To protect yourself, the Cleveland Clinic recommends that you should take the following precautions:

  • Have a pelvic exam annually.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have any irregular abdominal pain or vaginal bleeding.
  • Eat a low-fat diet. (Dr. Oz's show recommended endive, sea bass and red onions, which researchers have found can cut the risk of this disease. The show also offered a recipe for sea bass with Mediterranean sauce that looks pretty darn tasty that you may want to try.)
  • Talk to your doctor if you have a close relative who has been diagnosed with this type of cancer. Also be sure to discuss extending the use of hormonal contraception to reduce the risk of this disease.
  • Consider having your ovaries removed if you have a family history of breast/ovarian cancer or have the BRACA gene.

The good news is that ovarian cancer can be cured about 95 percent of the time if it's identified in its earliest stages. However, if this cancer is not found, it can easily spread to other organs, which make it much more difficult to treat and cure. So let's all pledge to keep a sharp eye out for the symptoms and talk to our doctors if a concern emerges.