Can My Gynecologist Screen Me For Ovarian Cancer?

All About Women's gynecologists discuss ways you and your gynecologist can work together to help prevent and detect ovarian cancer

It’s perhaps one of the scariest cancers around. While it only affects about 3% of women in the United States, ovarian cancer is by far the most deadly reproductive cancer for women. To make matters worse, ovarian cancer has no standard screening procedure and can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages. As a woman, you may wonder what you can do to help prevent ovarian cancer and to make sure that, if you ever get the cancer, your doctor can detect it early.

Though ovarian cancer and its risk factors are not as well understood as other types of cancers, there are some proactive steps that you can take with the help of your gynecologist to reduce your risk of ovarian cancer:

1) Get an Annual Pelvic Exam

As you get older and are done with your childbearing years, you may feel like your annual pelvic exam isn't necessary – but it is. A pelvic exam performed by your gynecologist during your annual well woman exam is an important tool in catching many different conditions early, and it may catch ovarian cancer.

During a pelvic exam, your gynecologist will feel your ovaries. Enlarged ovaries or pain in the pelvis can suggest potential ovarian tumors. Pelvic exams aren't able to detect all tumors, especially in their early stages, but it's an important tool that could find any kind of reproductive cancer first.

2) Know Your Risk Factor

There are some known factors that may increase a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer. These factors include:

  • Having a mother, sister or daughter who has had ovarian or breast cancer; having had breast cancer yourself; or having any family member with a BRCA gene mutation. Having a family member with colorectal cancer also increases your risk.
  • Having a Body Mass Index of over 30. You can calculate your BMI here.
  • Being older than 40 and/or having already gone through menopause.
  • Having had your first child after 35 or having had no children.
  • Having used estrogen replacement therapy without progesterone for more than five years.

When you have elevated risk factors, it's important for you to alert your gynecologist so that they can consider additional possible screening measures besides the pelvic exam. These screening measures may include a transvaginal ultrasound or a CA-125 blood test.

3) Recognize the Signs of Ovarian Cancer

If you have an elevated risk of ovarian cancer, it's important for you to know the possible symptoms, which can include:

  • Urgent or frequent need to urinate
  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Feeling full quickly or trouble eating

These symptoms may be the result of another, unassociated condition. However, if your risk is high for ovarian cancer, talk to your gynecologist if you experience any of these symptoms for longer than a couple of weeks.

4) Consider Ways to Lower Risk Factors

There are some suggestions from the American Cancer Society on how to lower your risk for ovarian cancer:

  • For women of childbearing age, breastfeeding.
  • Exercise and a healthy diet, even after menopause, can help reduce your risk of many cancers.
  • Taking oral contraceptives or Hormone Replacement Therapy for several years.
  • Having your tubes tied can reduce your risk by 2/3, according to the ACS, an even greater reduction in risk than a hysterectomy (1/3 reduction).

Each woman is different, so make sure to talk to your gynecologist about what course of action is best for you.

Your Gynecologist Can Help

If you're concerned about your risk for ovarian cancer, your gynecologist is the best medical professional to talk to since it's a cancer of the female reproductive tract. Your gynecologist can help you plan for risk prevention and, if concerned about your potential for ovarian cancer, she can recommend you to a gynecological oncologist, a doctor who works with female-specific cancers.

At All About Women, our professional and compassionate team of expert gynecologists is here to help you stay well, regardless of your concerns or point in life. Contact us at our Gainesville or Lake City office today to schedule an appointment.

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