Ovarian Cancer: Symptoms, Screenings and Prevention

Jul 26, 2021 | Cancer

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The Pap tests you get at the gynecologist don’t check for ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, there’s no simple and reliable way to screen for ovarian cancer.

Ultimately, you are the best screening method. That’s why it’s important for you to pay attention to what’s going on with your body, you can recognize any warning signs.

Here’s what we know about the symptoms and how to potentially help prevent ovarian cancer.

Risk Factors

Several different factors can increase a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you may be at greater risk if you:

  • Are middle-aged or older
  • Have close relatives who have had it
  • Have endometriosis
  • Have had breast, uterine or colon cancer
  • Have an Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish background
  • Have not given birth or have had trouble getting pregnant
  • Have a genetic mutation called BRCA1 or BRCA2


According to the CDC and the American Cancer Society (ACS), ovarian cancer can cause:

  • Bloating
  • Pain or pressure in the pelvic area
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Difficulty eating, or feeling full too quickly
  • A change in your bathroom habits, such as more frequent or urgent need to urinate

Other medical conditions can cause these symptoms as well. But, when these symptoms are caused by ovarian cancer, they tend to be more persistent and more severe.

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include fatigue, upset stomach, pain during sex, constipation, and changes in your period.

Screening and Prevention

If you notice these symptoms, talk to your doctor about them. Although Pap tests won’t detect ovarian cancer, ask about other diagnostic tests that can sometimes help find it or rule it out. These tests include a rectovaginal pelvic exam, a transvaginal ultrasound or a CA-125 blood test.

There’s no surefire way to prevent ovarian cancer. However, there are some factors that are associated with a reduced risk of getting it:

  • Staying at a healthy weight
  • Having used birth control pills for at least five years
  • Having given birth
  • Breastfeeding

Women who have taken oral contraceptives for five or more years have about a 50 percent lower risk of developing ovarian cancer, according to the ACS. However, birth control pills come with side effects and can slightly increase your risk of breast cancer.

As always, discuss the potential risks and benefits with your doctor first.

Find a doctor here.

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