03:09am Thursday 17 October 2019

What Every Woman Should Know: Ovarian and Breast Cancer Basics

All women should be aware of the facts about ovarian and breast cancer. These diseases are not the silent killers they were once believed to be. Over the past decade, science has confirmed what many women have long known to be true: both forms of cancer have symptoms. It is also true that when caught in the early stages, both ovarian and breast cancer can be successfully treated.

Ovarian and Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Every year in the U.S. there are 190,000 new cases of malignant breast cancer and 60,000 new cases of benign breast cancer in the female population. There are around 22,440 new diagnoses of ovarian cancer each year. If you have been diagnosed with either form of cancer, you can find more information and support from SHARE.

Age: Your risk of breast cancer, like many other diseases, increases as you grow older. Around two-thirds of invasive forms of breast cancer occur in women who are 55 years plus. Ovarian cancer can arise at any age but is most likely between the ages of 50 to 60.

Genetics: If you have a close family member who has been diagnosed with either form of cancer, you have a higher risk of contracting it yourself. If the relative is your mother, sister or daughter, your risk of cancer is doubled.

Ethnicity: Hispanic, Asian and African-American women are slightly less likely to develop breast cancer than Caucasian women. However, African American women are at a greater risk of developing more advanced and aggressive breast cancer at a younger age than other races.

Pregnancy History: If you have never given birth or you had your first pregnancy after the age of 30, you have a greater chance of developing breast cancer than women who have their first child before the age of 30.

Menstrual History: If you began your periods before the age of 12 years old you have a greater risk of developing breast cancer later in life. This is also the case if you go through menopause after the age of 55. You have a greater risk of ovarian cancer if you have never been pregnant.

Breast Density: Studies show that women who have dense breasts may be up to six times more likely to suffer from breast cancer. Dense breasts can also make the disease more difficult to detect with a mammogram.

Inherited Gene Mutation (IGM): A small percentage of breast and ovarian cancers are caused by IGM. These genes are breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2).

Smoking: If you smoke you are significantly increasing your chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Second-hand smoke also increases your chance of breast and ovarian cancer if you have already gone through menopause.

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Although ovarian cancer is not common, it causes more deaths than any other form of female reproductive cancer. Sometimes women have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all until the disease has become quite advanced. At this point, it is difficult to treat.

Signs and symptoms may include:

-Pelvic or abdominal pain


-Trouble eating, or quickly feeling full

-Urgent need to urinate

-Changes in bowel habits

-Back pain


-Upset stomach


-Pain during sex

-Menstrual changes

-Abdominal swelling

Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that grows in the cells of the breasts. Cells in just about any part of the body can become cancerous and can spread to other areas of the body. Early signs of breast cancer may include:

-A lump in your breast or underarm that remain after your menstrual cycle is over

-A swelling in your underarm

-Tenderness or pain in your breast

-A visible indentation of flattening of your breast

-Changes in the texture or contour of your breast

-Redness, flushing or increased temperature of the breast

-Itching, burning, retraction, or ulceration of your nipple

-Unusual discharge from your nipple

-A patch of skin on your breast that looks very different from the rest of your breast

You may only notice one or two signs, and this does not necessarily mean that you have breast or ovarian cancer, but if you notice any unusual changes in your body, you should seek medical advice straight away. Remember, if you do have ovarian or breast cancer, the sooner you are diagnosed, the easier it is to treat, and the better your chance of survival.

Beth Kling is the Communications Director at SHARE Cancer Support, a non-profit organization founded in 1976 that is dedicated to building a network and community for women affected by breast and ovarian cancer.

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