Educate Yourself on Symptoms for National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

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When I first started writing this post, I had the idea to call it the magical powers of the ovaries and their influence on puberty, periods and menopause.  While my original intent was to focus on the wonders of the ovaries, because knowledge can save lives, I have switched gears so that the main focus of this post will be about ovarian cancer.

ovaries

Image: Hey Paul Studios via Flickr

Why Women Have Ovaries

To start, I think it is important to understand why females have ovaries:  Simply said from beinggirl.com

The ovaries produce egg follicles (ova) and female hormones (estrogen and progesterone). During each monthly menstrual cycle, an egg is released from one ovary. The egg travels from the ovary through a fallopian tube to the uterus. The ovaries are the main source of female hormones, which control the development of female body characteristics, such as the breasts, body shape, and body hair. They also regulate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.

Awareness is Key for Catching Ovarian Cancer Early

No doubt, ovarian cancer is scary.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, every year more than 20,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  It is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women and results in more than 14,000 deaths a year.  UGH!!!  With those stats, it is key that we know our risk factors and how to recognize symptoms.  

Risk Factors

Risk factors include:

  • Inherited gene mutations:  The same genes responsible for breast cancer, (BRCA1 and BRCA2) are also linked to ovarian cancer if a women has a mutation of the gene. 
  • A family history of ovarian cancer puts you at an increased risk. 
  • A diagnosis of breast, colon, rectum or uterus, places you at an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Age is a factor, since as we get older we have an increased risk. 
  • A woman who has never been pregnant has an increased risk too. 

Symptoms to Report

There are symptoms, so knowing what those are and reporting them to your health care provider is key to getting the treatment needed.   Unfortunately, symptoms may not show up early, but as the cancer grows, they become more apparent and action should be taken.  They are:

  • Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back, or legs
  • A swollen or bloated abdomen
  • Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Feeling very tired all the time

Less common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling the need to urinate often
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding (heavy periods, or bleeding after menopause)

Don’t panic if you have any of those symptoms, as they don’t necessarily mean that you have ovarian cancer.  However, all of those symptoms warrant an appointment with your physician to get properly diagnosed.

This post is just a brief overview.  For more complete information I recommend that you visit the National Cancer Institute site's content area about ovarian cancer.

Interesting Ovarian Facts

Even with the seriousness of this topic, I thought I would end on a lighter note and share a few, of what I think, are interesting ovarian facts:

At birth, there are anywhere from 150,000 to 500,000 follicles.  At the age of reproduction, the number of follicles falls to about 34,000.

Most mammals have ovaries.  While I couldn’t find any reference of a mammal that doesn’t, I was hesitant to make this an absolute. 

The largest mammal with ovaries is the whale, of course it is the largest mammal.  Dolphins also have ovaries.  Very small mammals with ovaries include the Etruscan shrew, the bumblebee bat, pygmy possum and the pygmy marmoset.  While these are all adorable and very tiny, their ovaries are no doubt very, very small, but functional for sure.

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