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What Do You Need to Know About Ovarian and Breast Cancer Risk?


Photo by Cancer Type

Experts agree: “If you or a close relative has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, speak to your doctor about getting genetic counseling.”

In the wake of Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she carries a genetic mutation linked to breast and ovarian cancers, thousands of women are wondering whether they are at risk. To address their concerns, four women’s health organizations have joined together to provide essential information about risk factors and symptoms of ovarian cancer.

All women are at risk of developing ovarian cancer, with one in 72 experiencing this devastating diagnosis during her lifetime. If you or a close relative have had ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about genetic counseling to explore your options. Just like eye color, a tendency to develop certain cancers can be inherited from our parents.

All women are encouraged to learn the signs of ovarian cancer, a disease for which there is no reliable early detection test.

Both genetic risk and decisions about medical intervention are deeply personal. Some women with a strong family history may opt for testing to determine whether they carry genetic mutations such as BRCA1, BRCA2 and Lynch syndrome—all of which increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Women who know they have a genetic mutation, like Angelina Jolie, may decide to have prophylactic surgery—removing their breasts and ovaries to reduce their risk. Alternately, with their doctor, they might choose careful monitoring to ensure that any cancer is detected as early as possible. A consensus statement on ovarian cancer risk and the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations is available here.

All women are encouraged to learn the signs of ovarian cancer, a disease for which there is no reliable early detection test. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

If you experience these symptoms, they are new and unusual for you, and persist for 14 days or more in a given month, visit your doctor, preferably a gynecologist, to ask about ovarian cancer. If you have been diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer, seek care first from a gynecologic oncologist.

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