Ovarian cancer

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Updated: 4/11/2007 2:50 pm
Ovarian cancer is hard to detect because it's usually unnoticeable until it has spread beyond the ovary. The ovaries are located in a woman's abdomen, one on each side of the uterus. About the size and shape of a walnut, they store a woman's eggs, or ova, and are the main source of female hormones. The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are swelling, bloating, discomfort in the lower abdomen, gas, indigestion, and a feeling of fullness. Other symptoms may include nausea and weight loss. Larger tumors may result in constipation, frequent urination, and fluid buildup in the abdomen. If these symptoms last for two weeks, it's recommended that you see your health care provider. Most ovarian cancers occur in women over age 50, but the disease can occur in younger women. Women who have regular pelvic exams increase their chances of detecting ovarian cancer early. A sonogram or exploratory surgery may be necessary to diagnose the condition. If present, the standard treatment is surgery, often combined with radiotherapy and chemotherapy. In contrast to uterine and breast cancer, there are few known risk factors for ovarian cancer. Having had breast cancer at an early age, never being pregnant, and eating a high-fat diet may be linked with a greater risk of ovarian cancer. If ovarian cancer has been found in several family members, such as the mother, sisters, and/or daughters, a woman is at greater risk and should be carefully monitored by a doctor. Ovarian cancer rates are lower in women who use oral contraceptives, those whose first pregnancy is at an early age, and those who have early menopause. For more information about ovarian cancer, consult your health care provider.

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