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Ovarian cancer is responsible for the highest mortality rates of all gynecologic cancers. Incidence and mortality rates are highest in white women compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Although highly treatable when detected early, most diagnoses occur at advanced stages of disease, when survival rates are poorest. In Los Angeles County, 2,275 women will get ovarian cancer in 2007. Of those, 1,580 will die.

Risk Factors
  • Age - Most ovarian cancers develop after menopause. Half of all ovarian cancers are found in women over 63.
  • Obesity - A study found a higher rate of death from ovarian cancer in obese women. The risk increased by 50% in the heaviest women.
  • Reproductive History - Women who started menstruating before age 12, had no children or had their first child after 30, and/or experienced menopause after 50 may have an increased risk.
  • Fertility Drugs - Some studies have found that prolonged use of the fertility drug clomiphene citrate, especially without achieving pregnancy, may increase risk.
  • Family History of Ovarian, Breast or Colorectal cancer - Risk is increased if a mother, sister or daughter has had ovarian cancer, especially if developed at a young age. A family history of cancer caused by an inherited mutation of the breast cancer gene BRCA1 or BRCA2 results in a very high risk of ovarian cancer. A mutation leading to inherited colorectal cancer also increases risk.
  • Personal history of breast cancer – A history of breast cancer increases risk.

Early Symptoms
Early ovarian cancers cause symptoms that are relatively vague and can include abdominal swelling, unusual vaginal bleeding, pelvic pressure, back pain, leg pain, and digestive problems such as gas, bloating, indigestion or long-term stomach pain.

No good screening tools exist to find ovarian cancers early. During a pelvic exam, a doctor feels the ovaries for size, shape, and consistency. However, most early ovarian tumors are difficult or impossible for even the most skilled examiner to feel. UCLA researchers are working to develop a simple blood test that may help find ovarian cancers earlier than they are detectable now.

Sources: American Cancer Society, California Cancer Registry

Last updated: 7/10/2008 11:01:13 AM