Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: Let’s Break Out the Teal!
It’s September again. School is starting back up for the kids. Cooler temperatures are on the horizon. And women all across Canada and the United States are breaking out their teal to support Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month! This year while we don our supportive apparel and fundraise for research effects, let’s take a moment to learn about the disease we are fighting so hard against.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth deadliest cancer for women in Canada. Roughly 2,500 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer per year, and for over half of those women, the cancer will be fatal. What makes this disease so deadly? Many have referred to ovarian cancer as a “whispering disease”because its symptoms are so subtle. With symptoms like menstrual changes, fatigue, frequent urination, bloating, back pain, upset stomach, pelvic or abdominal pain, and constipation, many women confuse symptoms of ovarian cancer with symptoms of their regular menstrual cycle or menopause.
As hard as it can be for women to spot these symptoms in their body, it can be just as hard for doctors to see the signs and diagnose the problem as well. Unlike cervical cancer, which is tested for annually with a woman’s Pap test, ovarian cancer has no specific test to diagnose the disease. There are several tests that can indicate the development of ovarian cancer cells or identify tumors, including a pelvic exam, imaging scans like an MRI, ultrasound, and several blood tests. However, none of these tests on their own will fully diagnose ovarian cancer. Typically, multiple tests are done followed by a biopsy of the tumor, which is the only definitive way to determine if it is ovarian cancer.
All women have some risk of developing ovarian cancer no matter their age, race, or lifestyle habits, but some women are more at risk than others. A woman’s risk increases with age; as she approaches 50 and when she enters post-menopause, her chances become even greater. Women who have lower chances of developing ovarian cancer include women who have given birth or have used oral contraceptives consistently for 5+ years. A woman’s chances are also lower for ovarian cancer if she has had a hysterectomy or other gynecological surgery in which her ovaries or fallopian tubes have been removed.
Looking into a woman’s medical history or her family’s medical history is also important when determining risk factors. Women who have had cervical, breast or colorectal cancer will have a greater risk of developing ovarian cancer. Women who have relatives with breast cancer or ovarian cancer are also at a higher risk. The presence of genetic mutations like BRCA1 and BRCA2 (most commonly associated with breast cancer) indicate a higher risk for ovarian cancer. It’s important for a woman who suspects that she might be at risk due to her family’s past experiences with cancer to undergo genetic testing.
Some other possible increased risk factors include obesity and the use of talcum powder around a woman’s vagina. Studies have found that women who are considered obese with a BMI of 30 or above are at a greater risk for ovarian cancer. Truth be told, not only will a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer increase, but obesity has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and several other cancers. Living a healthy active lifestyle is greatly recommended to reduce everyone’s risk for many life-threatening diseases. Another risk factor according to many scientists, doctors, and juries is the use of talcum powder around a woman’s vagina for personal hygiene use. Studies have found a threat of ovarian cancer in talcum powder. While the exact correlation is still to be determined, talc particles have been found in an alarming number of biopsied tumors. With these findings, many doctors and scientists recommend keeping talc-based baby powders and other cosmetic products containing talc away from a woman’s genitals. With even a hint of doubt, it’s best to protect yourself and your family from the dangers of this disease.
Now that you know the dangers and risks of this silent killer, it’s time for teal! This September, honor the doctors searching for a cure. Honor the women fighting for their lives, and honor those who have lost their lives because of ovarian cancer. Share this new knowledge with the women in your life – mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends – and be apart of this awareness movement!