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The Cancer that Hides: Don't Ignore Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

The Cancer that Hides: Don't Ignore Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time when organizations across the U.S. work to support those battling the disease while increasing awareness and raising funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. But there are other important women’s health issues that also deserve our attention, specifically a cancer with “veiled” symptoms, that is often referred to as the cancer that hides: ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer’s symptoms – digestive issues, excessive fatigue, excessive bleeding, changes in bowel and bladder function and pain during intercourse – are often seen as symptoms of other health problems and may be minimized or ignored. Valley Health caregivers remind women to learn about the risk factors, and make sure they discuss concerning symptoms with their gynecologist or primary care provider.

“Some women may be uncomfortable discussing gynecology problems with their care provider, but patients should trust their instincts and have a candid conversation if they have concerns,” notes James K. Nashed, MD, board-certified specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, and chair of the OB/GYN department at Winchester Medical Center. He emphasizes that a woman’s best defense always depends on communicating with her doctor regularly.

Julian E. Martinez, MD, a board-certified OB/GYN with Valley Health Shenandoah Memorial Hospital, adds that there is no screening for ovarian cancer. “Women must be proactive and talk with their doctor about symptoms like vaginal bleeding (especially after menopause), abdominal or pelvic pain, bloating, feeling full quickly, or losing weight while gaining abdominal girth.”

Women who have had endometriosis or breast cancer, or have a family history of ovarian cancer, are at higher risk of ovarian cancer. In fact, women who have had breast cancer and also have a genetic predisposition to ovarian cancer may choose to have their ovaries removed to prevent ovarian cancer. Experts also suggest that women who plan tubal ligation for pregnancy prevention have the entire tube removed as a proactive strategy for cancer prevention.

On the other hand, taking hormonal contraceptive pills for five years or more reduces a woman’s risk by about 50 percent.

“Valley Health offers the full spectrum of important gynecological services for women of all ages, so whether you are 18 or 68, scheduling routine checkups, getting recommended screenings, being attuned to changes in your body and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are all important when it comes to pelvic health,” continues Dr. Nashed.

Beyond getting screenings and regular checkups to detect gynecologic cancers, taking care of your overall health is key. “Watch your weight and what you eat, exercise, and don’t smoke,” Dr. Martinez adds. “It’s fundamental not only to prevent cancer, but if you get sick, you’ll do much better.”

Don’t postpone medical care that is critical to your well being! We remind women that gynecological care continues to be offered at Valley Health’s facilities and physician practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, with stringent precautions in place to prevent the transmission of coronavirus. Visit valleyhealthlink.com/gynhealth for more information.

Valley Health offers a wide range of services to help area residents resolve or better manage health challenges and feel their best. Much like a free health screening, virtual support group, or collaborative community project, we share educational health and wellness information and perspectives like this as part of our mission: Serving our Community By Improving Health. Visit valleyhealthlink.com/community to learn more about our Community Benefit activities as we work to advance “Healthier Tomorrows” for all in our region.