Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: Dr Brent Jim answers your questions

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and the SOGC, along with Dr. Brent Jim, would like to help shed some light on common questions you might be asking yourself about this serious disease.

How do I know my risk factors for ovarian cancer? ·

The baseline risk of developing ovarian cancer in Canada is 1-2%. A family history of breast and ovarian cancer is a risk factor for developing breast cancer, especially if there is a known BRCA (genetic) mutation in the family. Ovarian cancer has also been associated with infertility and not having children. The length of a person’s reproductive life has a strong association with developing ovarian cancer. What that means is early onset of periods and late menopause is associated with a higher risk.

How do I know if I have symptoms of ovarian cancer? ·

Unfortunately, the symptoms of ovarian cancer are initially vague. The symptoms don’t usually start until there is fluid build-up in the abdomen called ascites. This is usually late stage (stage 3). The fluid can cause pain, bloating, abdominal distention, diarrhea, constipation, peeing frequently, urinary urgency, heartburn, getting full fast, shortness of breath.

Can I get screened for ovarian cancer? ·

Unfortunately, there is no screening test for ovarian cancer. This has been studied extensively. We have studied tumour markers (blood tests) and ultrasounds. We have also studied a combination of blood tests and ultrasounds. None of these methods have improved overall survival from ovarian cancer.

Can I reduce my risk for getting ovarian cancer? ·

The birth control pill has been associated with a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. Using a birth control pill for 5 or more years lowers risk by about 50%. We now know that many ovarian cancers start in the fallopian tube and not the ovary. If someone is wanting to have the tubes tied, we will counsel them about opportunistic removal of the fallopian tubes instead as this may lower the risk of ovarian cancer. This is especially important in known BRCA (genetic) cases. Even in these patients, we do not have good screening options. We do have guidelines on when we recommend removing both fallopian tubes and ovaries (depending on the genetic condition).