All About Ovarian Cancer

all about ovarian cancer

“Cancer is a journey, but you walk the road alone. There are many places to stop along the way and get nourishment — you just have to be willing to take it.” – Emily Hollenberg

All too often, ovarian cancer is a silent killer. It happens over and over again—ovarian cancer goes undiagnosed until troubling symptoms start to appear. It feels out of the blue. All of a sudden a tumor needs to be removed. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women.

The American Cancer Society estimates for ovarian cancer in the United States for 2022 are: about 19,880 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer. About 12,810 women will die from ovarian cancer.

Here at EatToHeal, our founder Jamie Fontaine Nappi founded the nonprofit Patty’s House in honor of her mother in the aid and support of women who are dying or fighting gynecologic cancer. As ovarian cancer accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system, we want to talk about ovarian cancer, its risk factors, signs and symptoms, and early detection.

What is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovaries are the reproductive glands only found in females. They produce eggs for reproduction, and an ovary lies on each side of the uterus. As ovaries are made up of three kinds of cells, each type of cell can develop a different type of tumor. According to the American Cancer Society

  • Epithelial tumors start from the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovary
  • Germ cell tumors start from the cells that produce the eggs (ova).
  • Stromal tumors start from structural tissue cells that hold the ovary together and produce estrogen and progesterone.

The most common type of tumor is epithelial cell tumor. While some are benign and borderline, others are malignant. 

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

The two strongest risk factors of ovarian cancer are genetics and family history. Women who have had family members who have had cancer before, more specifically breast, prostate, uterus, colon, rectal, pancreatic, and of course ovarian cancer, are at a higher risk. And while the average age of those diagnosed with ovarian cancer is 63, keep in mind that according to the American Cancer Society, Ovarian cancer is rare in women who are younger than 40 years old, and most ovarian cancer develops after menopause. 

Other known risk factors for ovarian cancer include: 

  • Never being pregnant, never having a full-term pregnancy, or having children after 35
  • Being obese or overweight
  • More menstrual cycles or early first menstrual period
  • Using hormone replacement therapy, especially after menopause 
  • Using fertility treatment with IVF
  • Smoking
  • Having already had breast cancer
  • Age as the average age of diagnosis is 63
  • Having a family history of ovarian cancer
  • Having family cancer syndrome (inherited mutations in certain genes)

Factors That Can Lower the Risk of Ovarian Cancer

Luckily, there are things out there that can help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. Namely, pregnancy and breastfeeding have been linked to a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. Especially if the pregnancy was carried to term before the age of 26, and the risk continues to go down with each full-term pregnancy. 

Birth control, specifically oral contraceptives, has been shown to lower the risk of ovarian cancer as well. The risk actually continues to go down the longer that the pills are taken. IUDs and tubal ligation have both also been linked with a reduced risk of ovarian cancer. A hysterectomy also has been associated with a lower risk of ovarian cancer, cutting the chances by about 33%.

Most importantly, some studies have revealed that diet plays an important role in reducing the risk of developing all types of cancer— including ovarian cancer. Following a nutrient-dense diet filled with tons of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, while avoiding processed foods and sugary drinks is the way to go.

The Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Let’s cover the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer while acknowledging that a lot of these symptoms can be linked with other issues or conditions entirely! If your symptoms are persistent, then it’s a good idea to get a pelvic ultrasound and get screened for ovarian cancer.

Signs and symptoms include:

According to the American Cancer Society, the most common symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms such as urgency or frequency
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach
  • Back pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Constipation
  • Changes in a woman’s period, such as heavier bleeding than normal or irregular bleeding
  • Abdominal swelling with weight loss

Early Detection and Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer does not have to be a silent killer. Currently, only 20% of ovarian cancers are found at an early stage. However, when ovarian cancer is diagnosed early, then approximately 94% of patients live longer than five years after they receive that diagnosis! 94% is a huge number! 

If you are experiencing any persistent symptoms from the list above, or if you have a family history of cancer, then getting screened is never a bad idea. Make sure you attend your regular women’s health exams as pelvic exams can detect unusual size, shape, and consistency of the ovaries. If you are experiencing persistent symptoms for more than a few weeks, then make sure to see a doctor immediately. 

Screening tests for ovarian cancer are available! The two types of screening methods are TVUS (transvaginal ultrasounds) which uses an ultrasound to look for tumors in the ovaries. The other type of screening test is the CA-125 blood test which measures the amount of protein CA-125 in the blood, as high levels have been linked with ovarian cancer but also with other conditions as well— so it might not be as accurate as the TVUS method. 

Ovarian Cancer Resources and Support

We are proud, honored, and humbled to be a part of those with cancer’s healing journey. Our founder, Jaime Fontaine Nappi lost her beloved mother to cancer, and when she learned of her father’s cancer diagnosis, she was determined to help her own body heal by changing her diet and incorporating a holistic approach to healing. If you are in need of support, please visit Patty’s House for aid and support for women who are dying or fighting gynecologic cancer. You can also connect with an online community like MyLifeLine or CanCare.

Cancer has touched our hearts and our lives. As Emily Hollenberg says, “there are many places to stop along the way to get nourishment.” It is an honor to be one of those places.