INDIANAPOLIS — September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and doctors at Hancock Health hope to use the next few weeks to educate Hoosiers about this potentially deadly disease.  

Unlike other forms of cancer, doctors say there is not as much awareness for ovarian cancer. 

About 20,000 cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed each year, representing just a small fraction when compared to those diagnosed with other forms of cancer like breast cancer. Doctors at Hancock Health say ovarian cancer may be a small percentage of total cancer diagnosis, but for that small percentage, it’s a life-changing and potentially life-threatening moment. This is why they want to reaffirm how early testing can lead to better outcomes. 

According to the American Cancer Society women have a 1 in 78 chance of getting ovarian cancer in their lifetime. Unlike breast cancer, ovarian cancer is hard to detect. There’s not a test you can perform at home and most ovarian cancers, when they’re found, are often in more advanced stages and already beyond the ovary.

Oncologists say testing is the key to prevention and better outcomes, but also say being aware of potential risk factors goes a long way. 

“It tends to be a disease for older women. It’s pretty rare under the age of 40. The average age for women in this country that are diagnosed is around 63. There are genetic factors, if you have a relative, if your mother has a disease, if your sister has a disease, your grandmother. So, because of hereditary risks they should be connected well with their primary care physician, their gynecologist,” Hancock Health oncologist Dr. Stephen Schultz said. 

Schultz added that about half of women who were ultimately diagnosed with ovarian cancer end up reporting symptoms of pain or abdominal bloating. There are also symptoms of fatigue, nausea, or a change in bowel habits. He says if these symptoms persist for long periods of time, that may be a sign it’s time to talk to someone. 

“We’ve all had aches and pains, you and I have had aches and pains, something we ate, something that’s there for hours or days, we kind of ignored it goes away. But symptoms like that they are there for weeks at a time, a month, more warrants a trip to your primary care physician or your gynecologist,” Schultz said.

According to Schultz, there isn’t an absolute way to prevent the disease unless women have genetic testing done, and then if deemed to be at risk, have prophylactic surgery to remove the uterus and the ovaries. Genetic markers that indicate risk include the BRCA1 and the BRCA2 gene.  

Schultz says staying on top of your yearly exams is crucial. He adds that there are still a number of women who have put off their annual exams, or mammograms, so he wants to use this moment to urge them to reconnect with healthcare. You can learn more about Hancock Health’s Women’s Health Services here.