As appeared in: Montclair Local
Editor’s note: The following article is by Dr. Karen Dias-Martin, gynecologist at Summit Medical Group in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Dr. Dias-Martin appears on the 2017 list of New Jersey’s Top Doctors. She has lived in Montclair for 30 years.
In my more than two decades as a practicing gynecologist there is one topic that I know concerns almost every patient who walks into my office—ovarian cancer. Women are worried, and rightly so. Ovarian cancer is among the top 10 cancers affecting women in the U.S. and the fifth-leading cause of cancer death in women.
The incidence of ovarian cancer increases with age. Nearly half of women diagnosed with the disease are age 63 or older, according to the American Cancer Society. As a gynecologist, the key is to identify high-risk women and diagnose them as quickly as possible. Early treatment leads to a better prognosis.
It is easier to notice subtle changes that may be signs of ovarian cancer if you are healthy. Eating nutritious food, exercising regularly, and maintaining an ideal body weight will give you a better baseline to notice these red flags. Some of the signs of ovarian cancer include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, menstrual irregularities, and painful intercourse.
Discuss any concerns with your gynecologist. Here are some of the typical scenarios I see and the common questions I receive from patients.
Patient 1: My mother’s sister had ovarian cancer and I do not know my other relatives. What is my risk?
I would counsel this patient that family history is indeed the strongest risk factor for ovarian cancer. But other factors are important too, such as infertility or never being pregnant. Early menstrual periods as well as late menopause can also increase your risk.
Patient 2: I took birth control for many years. Does that mean I am going to get cancer?
Absolutely not. In fact, your risk of ovarian cancer is reduced if you’ve taken oral contraceptives, breastfed, or had a hysterectomy.
Patient 3: It seems like everyone is being diagnosed with ovarian cancer—my friend, my neighbor, and my aunt. Is there anything I can do to prevent this disease and detect it before it starts?
There are risks and benefits to early screenings. The obvious benefit is early diagnosis. The not-so-obvious risk is getting an uncertain result. It can be very frustrating when the diagnosis is unclear. This can result in unnecessary surgeries.
Patient 4: I want to be screened. I have many of the symptoms listed on websites—I’m tired, constipated, and my periods are irregular.
I am always happy to perform a thorough gynecologic evaluation.
The first step is a pelvic exam. However, it is important to note that pelvic exams do not detect early ovarian cancers. The next step is to send the patient for a blood test known as the CA 125, which measures the amount of protein cancer antigens, and an ultrasound. The CA 125 test may come back as a false positive if you have a benign condition such as fibroid uterus or endometriosis. That is why it is so important for gynecologists to offer a complete evaluation.
Talk to your gynecologist if you have any concerns, symptoms, or even just a nagging feeling that something is not right. I love when my patients ask me questions. And do not forget to report any family history of cancer to your doctor. You know your body better than anyone. Together, we can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.