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What Everyone Should Know About Ovarian Cancer

Learn about the symptoms to watch out for and how to reduce your risk

: What Everyone Should Know About Ovarian Cancer

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, which brings attention to the deadliest and second most common cancer of the female reproductive system.

To raise awareness for this serious condition, Christine Kim, MD, a board-certified and fellowship-trained gynecologic oncologist with LVPG Gynecologic Oncology, part of Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute, shares the most important things to know:

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Abdominal, back or pelvic pain
  • Bloating
  • Changes in urinary urgency and/or frequency
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full quickly

While these symptoms can be caused by ovarian cancer, they are also often related to less serious conditions.

“Because these symptoms may be vague, many women will delay going to the doctor for evaluation and diagnosis,” Dr. Kim says.

“If you are experiencing these symptoms persistently, or if they are occurring more than six to eight times in a month, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.” - Christine Kim, MD,

Why is ovarian cancer so deadly?

Unfortunately, there is no reliable screening test available for ovarian cancer. Also, because the symptoms of ovarian cancer are shared by less serious conditions, the disease can go undetected in its earlier stages (when it is most treatable).

“In many cases, ovarian cancer isn’t diagnosed until it has advanced and spread to other parts of the body,” Dr. Kim says. “In these stages, it is much more difficult to treat.”

According to Dr. Kim, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, you should consider making an appointment with your gynecologist or primary care physician.

“If you are experiencing these symptoms persistently, or if they are occurring more than six to eight times in a month, it’s a good idea to see your doctor,” Dr. Kim says. “Many times, they are caused by something much less serious than ovarian cancer, but regardless, it’s important to be evaluated.”

What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer?

Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • Being of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage or of Eastern European Jewish descent
  • Having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
  • Having a family history of ovarian or breast cancer
  • Older age
  • Having children later in life or not at all
  • Receiving hormone therapy after menopause
  • Undergoing fertility treatment
  • Having a history of endometriosis
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a smoking history

“Even if you have one or more of these risk factors, you likely won’t develop ovarian cancer,” Dr. Kim says. “However, if you do have one or more of these risk factors, you should let your gynecology clinician know and alert them if you experience any symptoms.”

There are also some preventive measures you can take to lower your chance of developing ovarian cancer.

“Research has shown that taking an oral contraceptive for an extended period of time, having children, breastfeeding or having your tubes tied can reduce your risk,” Dr. Kim says.

Is genetic testing available for ovarian cancer?

Yes. One of the most important risk factors for ovarian cancer is family history of the disease. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, approximately 25 percent of all ovarian cancer diagnoses are related to inherited genetic mutations.

So, if you have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer, a known inherited gene mutation (specifically BRCA1 or BRCA2) or a hereditary cancer syndrome (such as Lynch syndrome), you should talk to your doctor about your eligibility for genetic testing.

Genetic counseling services are available through Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute’s Gregory and Lorraine Harper Cancer Risk and Genetic Assessment Program. To initiate genetic testing, you can either have your primary care clinician refer you to the program, or you can call the program directly at 610-402-8787 to request an appointment or to ask for more information.

“These tests can evaluate your hereditary cancer risk, and if needed, guide you toward appropriate preventive care,” Dr. Kim says.

What should I look for when seeking ovarian cancer treatment?

If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it is important to seek out a care team that has vast expertise and offers the latest treatments. The best care involves evaluation by gynecologic oncologists, who are specially trained in diagnosing and treating cancers that affect the female reproductive system, and hematologist oncologists.

“At Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute, our gynecologic oncologists and hematologist oncologists work together to develop a treatment plan specific to each patient’s diagnosis,” Dr. Kim says. “We not only offer the latest ovarian cancer treatments and access to clinical trials, but also a wide array of supportive services.”

Watch a Q&A with Christine Kim, MD and M. Bijoy Thomas, MD, from Sept. 2022

Ovarian Cancer

If you have ovarian cancer, you want the care that will give you the best chance for recovery. Fortunately, you’ll find it right here at home. A fellowship-trained gynecologic oncologist is the best type of doctor to treat ovarian cancer. 

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