Ovarian Cancer 101: An Overview of Symptoms and Risk Factors

September 5, 2019   Preventative Care, Sexual Health


Ah, September—the kids are going back to school, Starbucks has brought back its coveted Pumpkin Spice Latte, and Sundays are filled with cheering on your favorite team and an abundance of buffalo chicken dip. While September may mark the beginning of a new season and bring about change in our lives, it’s also a time to reflect and raise awareness for women everywhere. September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

Allow us to walk you through the different types of ovarian cancer and review the potential symptoms to look out for and the risk factors associated with the disease.

Ovarian Cancer 101—3 different types

Let’s kick off today’s learning journey with an ovarian cancer overview. As you may suspect from its name, ovarian cancer is cancer that affects one or both ovaries. There are several different types of ovarian cancer, named after the cell types that make up the organ, that affect approximately 1 in 55 women in their lifetime. They are as follows:

Epithelial: The most common form of ovarian cancer attributed to 90% of cases. This occurs when a tumor grows on the surface of the ovary(ies) itself.

Germ Cell: A rare form that occurs when a tumor grows in the reproductive cells of the ovary.

Stroma Cell: Another rare form of ovarian cancer that affects the connective cell tissues between other structures within the organ.

Now that we have a basic grasp on the various variations of ovarian cancer (try saying that five times fast), let’s review something you’re likely more familiar with–your body.

three cookies_website

Listen to your body—the symptoms

Often referred to as “the silent killer,” ovarian cancer is unlike most cancers in that its symptoms are disguised as common digestive ailments and it often goes undetected until it has already spread to different parts of the body. That’s why it’s important to listen to your body and pay attention to the following symptoms.

Early warning signs of ovarian cancer include:
  • Bloating, indigestion, or nausea
  • Changes in appetite
  • Pressure in the pelvis or lower back
  • Frequent/urgent urination
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Changes in menstruation
  • Pain during intercourse

If any of these persist daily for a few weeks (more than just “on and off”), contact your provider immediately to discuss next steps.


It may run in the family—and other risk factors

In addition to monitoring the bodily changes above, it’s important to review your personal medical history to identify any risk factors that may increase your chances of getting ovarian cancer. Two of the more prevalent risk factors include:

Age: The risk for ovarian cancer is higher in women over 40 and, according to the American Cancer Society, is most common in post-menopausal women over 63.

Family history: If your mother, sister, or daughter has or has had ovarian cancer at some point in their lives, your chances of getting it are higher. Additionally, having a family history of colorectal or breast cancer also increases your risk.


Be proactive!—risk reduction and next steps

Where a mammogram is a proactive measure to diagnose breast cancer in its early stages, no similar test exists for ovarian cancer, which makes it even more critical that you monitor bodily changes and consider activities that may reduce your risk.

You may consider taking birth control pills as your preferred contraceptive. Studies have shown that for every five years a woman is on the pill, her chances of getting ovarian cancer are reduced by 20%. Even having taken the pill for three years has shown similar results. Breastfeeding has also been linked to reduced risk.

Above all, listen to your body and discuss any concerns you have with your provider. You can also find more information at https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Ovarian-Cancer.


Maintaining a healthy weight decreases your risk of several diseases, including ovarian cancer.

— Kristin Yates, D.O.