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Duke Medicine: Ovarian cancer - what every woman needs to know

Posted September 17, 2012

News that the risks of ovarian cancer screening tests outweigh the benefits has some women wondering what they should do to prevent the deadly disease. According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer strikes about 22,000 women annually, and kills more than 15,000. While the majority of cases occur in women between the ages of 50 and 75, younger women can be affected as well.

Dr. Laura Havrilesky, a gynecologic oncologist with the Duke Cancer Institute, explains what the latest findings mean and what every woman should know.

What do these recent screening recommendations mean?

The latest report reiterates what previous studies have already shown. The screenings – a blood test that looks for a substance linked to cancer and an ultrasound scan of the ovaries – yield a high number of false-positives. That can lead to unnecessary surgeries, which can cause serious complications whether or not ovarian cancer is found. At this point, it has been determined that the harm associated with these screening tests outweigh the benefits when they are performed on women who are not at risk for ovarian cancer.

How would I know if I am at risk?

Family history is the major risk factor. If you have multiple family members with pre-menopausal breast cancer, meaning before the age of 50, or at least one first or second degree relative with ovarian cancer, you are at increased risk. If you have a genetic mutation in your family, you may also be at risk and you may want to consider talking to a genetic counselor to help determine if genetic testing might be right for you.

Other risk factors include obesity and age -– most ovarian cancers occur in women between the ages of 50 and 75 -- and whether you have ever had children. Research suggests there is a relationship between the frequency of ovulation and ovarian cancer. That may explain why women who take fertility drugs and hormone replacement therapy are also at higher risk. It also explains why women who breastfeed are at lower risk.

What are the common symptoms of ovarian cancer? Can the illness be prevented? For more information, read the full post at Duke Medicine, Go Ask Mom's sponsor, offers health tips and information every Tuesday.

1 Comment

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  • bradsherf Sep 18, 2012

    Good article..great doctor just wish this article was a little more visible on the website.