Ovarian Cancer Risks & Symptoms - Ask the Pharmacist

Sep 4, 2014
The specialist pharmacists in the Express Scripts Oncology Therapeutic Resource Center® help patients and caregivers manage the complex treatment regimens that come with an ovarian cancer diagnosis.
  • Cancer
  • Female

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women in the U.S. Roughly 1 in 70 women develops ovarian cancer during their lifetime. This year alone, the American Cancer Society estimates more than 24,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

A diagnosis of cancer can be difficult for patients and their caregivers. The specialist pharmacists in the Express Scripts Oncology Therapeutic Resource Center® (TRC) help them understand the condition and manage the complex treatment regimens.

Understanding Ovarian Cancer

The ovaries are glands located on either side of the uterus and produce both female hormones and eggs for reproduction. Ovarian cancer can begin in one or both ovaries. About 90% of ovarian cancer develops within the epithelial cells – cells that cover the surface of the ovaries – and from there, spread to the lining and organs of the pelvis and abdomen. Ovarian cancers also can develop from cells that form eggs (germ cells) and connective tissue (stromal cells).

Risk Factors and Symptoms

Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • Family medical history:  Approximately 10% of ovarian cancers are associated with the incidence of cancer among family members. Women who have a mother, daughter or sister with ovarian cancer are at higher risk. Family history of breast, colon and endometrial cancers also are associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Age: Most ovarian cancers develop after menopause and half of all cases occur in women 63 years of age or older.
  • Pregnancy: Women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Obesity: Women with a body mass index greater than 30 are at greater risk for ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is often asymptomatic in its early stages as the tumors are small and usually do not cause discomfort. Some symptoms that may indicate the presence of advanced ovarian cancer include:

  • Feeling the need to urinate often
  • Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation or diarrhea
  • Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back or legs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Swelling of the abdomen caused by a build-up of fluid

These symptoms are also common among other less serious conditions so a physician should be consulted to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, can improve their quality of life by adopting the following recommendations:

Exercise Regularly: Research suggests that exercise is not only safe during cancer treatment, but also can improve physical functioning and many aspects of quality of life. Moderate exercise has been shown to improve fatigue, anxiety and self-esteem. It also helps heart and blood vessel fitness, muscle strength and body composition (how much of your body is made up of fat, bone or muscle). People receiving chemotherapy and radiation who already exercise may need to do so at a lower intensity and build up more slowly than people who are not getting cancer treatment. The main goal should be to stay as active as possible and slowly increase the level of activity over time after treatment.

Ensure Sufficient Water Intake: Diarrhea and vomiting associated with ovarian cancer can result in dehydration. Symptoms like fatigue, light-headedness, dry mouth, a bad taste in the mouth and nausea can be caused by dehydration. To help prevent these problems, make sure to take in enough fluids. This is especially important for those who may be losing fluid through vomiting or diarrhea. The ingestion of about two quarts of fluid per day is recommended to maintain proper hydration, which is roughly equivalent to eight, 8-ounce glasses of fluid. This “8 by 8” rule has been used as an easy method to remember the recommended daily fluid intake.

Explore Complementary Methods: Complementary methods used to manage cancer symptoms can be helpful when used along with medical treatment, including prayer, meditation and massage therapy. Complementary methods can promote relaxation, pain reduction and create a general state of well-being.

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