The best course of action to beat any cancer is to be as informed, proactive, and honest with your professional cancer care team as you can. They will all be more than willing to answer any questions you might have, but will be able to help you the most when you have done some of the research on your own.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
Cancer is defined as any disease that belongs to a group involving the abnormal or “out-of-control” cell growth. These diseases have the potential to spread to or invade other parts of the body. While some tumors are benign (or do not spread to other parts in the body), some tumors are cancerous. Other symptoms include lumps, unexplained and sudden weight loss, bowel movement issues, chronic cough, and abnormal or unexplained bleeding. There are over 100 different types of cancers, but ovarian cancer is one of the more common cancers that affects women.
Ovarian cancer originates in the area of the ovaries (including the peritoneum and the fallopian tubes). The peritoneum tissue lines the abdomen and covers the organs that are inside it.There is one ovary located on each side of a woman’s uterus inside of her pelvis. Attached to each ovary are a woman's fallopian tubes, which are long and slender tubes that the eggs pass through from the ovaries.
As one of the most common cancers in women, ovarian cancer is related to more deaths than any of the other female reproductive system cancer (CDC). While there is a high rate of death among women with ovarian cancer, when it is diagnosed in its earliest stages a woman has a good chance of surviving it with treatment options. Therefore, women should know which warning signs to look for and how to find them in order to seek a professional medical diagnosis and treatment plan.
What Are BRCA Genes?
BRCA stands for Breast Cancer susceptibility gene (as in BR for BReast and CA for CAncer). Everyone has BRCA genes and these genes normally help protect people from getting cancer. Sometimes, however, some women may have mutations (or changes) in these genes, which may increase their risk for ovarian cancer (as well as breast cancer). These particular genetic changes also seem to increase the chances of women getting ovarian, breast, and other types of cancers at a younger ages (as in 20s or 30s). Women with one of these BRCA gene mutations are 30 times more likely to get ovarian cancer and 7 times more likely to get breast cancer than other women (under the age of 70). The two types of BRCA genes are the BRCA1 and the BRCA2 genes. To learn more about BRCA, visit the CDC listed under “Additional Resources” at the end of this article.
Before You Talk to Your Doctor
If you have not already received a diagnosis for ovarian cancer, but fear that you may be at risk, you really need to call your health care specialist and go ahead with setting up that first appointment. You may be scared, but knowing exactly if it is ovarian cancer or something else will go a long way with easing your worries and, if you do have cancer, will speed up the process for deciding on your treatment options. Remember the following pointers before you call or visit your healthcare professional for the first time:
- Spend a few days tracking the symptoms that you think may be signs of ovarian cancer
- Write down a list of all of your systems and location for any lumps you may be concerned about
- Write down a list of all of your top concerns and questions
- Call someone who you trust to go with you or drive you to the appointment (if you don’t have anyone to take you, contact your local churches and hospitals and ask about a cancer support volunteer go with you)
- Breathe, relax, and pray or meditate
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you suspect or are new to finding out that you have ovarian cancer, then you probably have a million different thoughts, emotions, and questions running through your mind at any given time. Keep a small notepad (or your phone) nearby and jot down any questions right away. Writing down your questions will help you in two ways: 1) You won’t forget to research or ask your doctor anything; and 2) It will get it out of your mind so that you aren’t obsessing about it. Scan through the following list of questions and write down (or print out) any that stand out to you:
- What is my exact type of cancer (cell type, microscopic, stage)?
- What does my exact type of cancer mean for me in my current health condition?
- What is the most likely prognosis for me?
- Has my cancer spread to any other parts of my body?
- What are my treatment options and which should I try?
- What are the risks and side effects associated with each of my treatment options?
- What should I know before, during, and after treatment?
- What type of diet should I following before, during, and after treatment?
- Should I expect infertility after my final treatment?
- What type of exercise will I be able to (or should) do before, during, and after treatment?
- What and how should I tell my loved ones?
- Will I be able to keep my job (or other activities)?
- What and how should I tell my employer and coworkers?
- What should I know about scheduling work and other activities around my treatments and recovery?
- Should I seek a second opinion?
- Do you know of any natural remedies or coping strategies that might help me recover?
When to Contact Your Doctor
As with all health advice, especially when located online, please always consult with your own professional healthcare provider. Please call your doctor immediately if you have a persistent cough, locate any lumps or cysts, or are bleeding or bruising more profusely and more frequently than before.
The mind, body, and soul are very closely related. In addition to the support and physical help that your doctor and cancer specialists can offer you, counselors, psychiatrists, and other organizations may also provide you with invaluable support that can help you throughout your diagnosis process, testing, and treatments.
National Cancer Institute www.cancernet.nci.nih.gov
The National Cancer Institute web site has some of the most recent cancer information and news from the National Cancer Institute. This agency is headed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
American Cancer Society www.cancer.org
With over 2 million volunteer and over 3,000 local chapters, the ACS works endlessly to end cancer through prevention, saving lives, education, and advocacy.
Cancer Care, Inc. www.cancercare.org
This nonprofit organization began in 1994 to offer emotional support, information, practical help, and additional support to help people with all types of cancer and their loved ones find hope and live full lives after a diagnosis.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America. (n.d.). “Ovarian Cancer Information”. [Web]. Retrieved on 05/22/2017 from: http://www.cancercenter.com/ovarian-cancer/learning/
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). (n.d.). “Ovarian Cancer”. [Web]. Retrieved on 05/22/2017 from: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/ovarian/index.htm