Should you worry about ovarian cancer?

Diem Brown – MTV reality star, cancer warrior and patient advocate - was only 34 years old when she died after a long battle with ovarian cancer on November 14. She was first diagnosed at 23 years old, and again in 2012. Her tragic story has put a spotlight on ovarian cancer and raised awareness.

Here are the most important questions about ovarian cancer answered with help from the American Cancer Society:

How common is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women. According to World Ovarian Cancer Day, there are about 250,000 women diagnosed each year and about 140,000 deaths from ovarian cancer each year worldwide. A woman’s risk of getting this type of cancer is about 1 in 73 and her risk of dying from it is about 1 in 100.

Who is at risk?

All women are at risk for ovarian cancer. It mainly develops in older women – about half of the women diagnosed are 63 years or older. It is more common in white women than African-American women. Women are most often diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 70, and even more so in women between the ages of 50 and 59. However, it does occur in younger women too. When younger individuals are diagnosed with cancer, it is often more aggressive.

Should I worry about it?

Women should not necessarily worry about ovarian cancer. However, because only about 20 percent of ovarian cancers are found early, women should know what the symptoms are and how to be cautious of it. When this type of cancer is found early, the five-year survival rate is about 90-95 percent. According to UConn Health, when the cancer is detected at an advanced stage, the five-year survival rate becomes 18 percent.

Can it be prevented?

Cancer is not preventable. However, being aware of the symptoms will allow for early diagnosis (when the disease is more easily treatable.) The best way women can keep themselves aware is by having a pelvic exam done each year. It is important that your physician is aware of your medical and family history so that all risk factors are taken into account. Routine pap smears do not detect ovarian cancer.

Are there symptoms, signs, or risk factors to be aware of?

The most common symptoms include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary symptoms like urgency and frequency. These symptoms may also be caused by non-cancerous diseases and other types of cancers. Symptoms that are persistent and more severe are more concerning, especially if a woman has symptoms more than twelve times a month. If so, a women should see her gynecologist. Other symptoms may include fatigue, upset stomach, back pain, pain during sex, constipation, menstrual changes, and abdominal swelling with weight loss.

Is it treatable?

When ovarian cancer is diagnosed at an early stage – when the cancer is still confined to the ovary. On the other hand, ovarian cancer is frequently diagnosed at a late stage. This may be due to symptoms being confused with other, more common issues. This is why it’s important to track the frequency of the symptoms.