Silent Killer: What Black Women Must Know About Ovarian Cancer

businesswomanAlthough African American women have lower incidence rates for ovarian cancer, they have worse survival rates from this disease. Also, although survival rates for Caucasian women have improved modestly over the past four decades, there has been no improvement for African American women.

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Why is there such a major difference between African American and Caucasian women when it comes to developing and surviving ovarian cancer? No one yet knows the answer, but educating women on the ailment and starting a dialogue with healthcare professionals, is a good place to start.

What Is Ovarian Cancer?

This cancer begins in the ovaries, the twin organs that produce a woman’s eggs and the main source of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Treatments for ovarian cancer have become more effective in recent years, with the best results seen when the disease is found early.

So, What Are The Symptoms?

Symptoms include:

  • Bloating or pressure in the belly
  • Pain in the abdomen or pelvis
  • Feeling full too quickly during meals
  • Urinating more frequently

These symptoms can be caused by many conditions that are not cancer. If they occur daily for more than a few weeks, report them to your health care professional.

Know Your Family History

A woman’s odds of developing ovarian cancer are higher if a close relative has had cancer of the ovaries, breast, or colon. Researchers believe that inherited genetic changes account for 10% of ovarian cancers. This includes the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, which are linked to breast cancer.  Women with a strong family history should talk with a doctor to see whether closer medical follow-up could be helpful.

Age Isn’t Just A Number

The  strongest risk factor for ovarian cancer is age. It’s most likely to develop after a woman goes through menopause. Using postmenopausal hormone therapy may increase the risk. The link seems strongest in women who take estrogen without progesterone for at least 5 to 10 years. Doctors are not certain whether taking a combination of estrogen and progesterone boosts the risk as well.

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Obesity & Ovarian Cancer

Obese women have a higher risk of getting ovarian cancer than other women. And the death rates for ovarian cancer are higher for obese women too, compared with non-obese women. The heaviest women appear to have the greatest risk.

Ovarian Cancer Screening Tests

There are two ways to screen for ovarian cancer before it causes symptoms or shows up during a routine gynecologic exam. One is a blood test for elevated levels of a protein called CA-125. The other is an ultrasound of the ovaries. Unfortunately, neither technique has been shown to save lives when used in women of average risk. For this reason, screening is only recommended for women with strong risk factors.

Ovarian Cancer Survival Rates

Ovarian cancer can be a frightening diagnosis, with five-year relative survival rates that range from 89% to 18% for epithelial ovarian cancer, depending on the stage when the cancer was found. But keep in mind that these odds are based on women diagnosed from 1988 to 2001. The treatments and outlook may be better for people diagnosed today. For LMP tumors, the five-year relative survival rates range from 99% to 77%.

 

Visit the BlackDoctor.org Womens Health center for more helpful articles and tips.

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