You have probably heard about lawsuits that allege that products containing talc cause ovarian cancer, but you shouldn’t get drawn into the hype, says Steve Vasilev, MD, medical director of integrative gynecologic oncology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center and a professor at the John Wayne Cancer Institute. He explains that “this current scare is based on observational and case studies alone. There really isn’t any good science showing that talc causes ovarian cancer.” So, while we’re waiting for better research to be carried out, it’s fine to steer clear of talc products if it makes you feel better, but there’s no need to give up your favorite face powder yet if you don’t want to.
2. If You Have a Family History of Ovarian Cancer Then You’re Doomed to Get It
Much is made of a woman’s family history when it comes down to ovarian and breast cancer – so much so that some women with a strong family history might feel that it’s their destiny to get it, so there isn’t really any point in trying to prevent it. However, Dr. Vasilev says that heredity only accounts for a mere 10% of cases. The biggest risk factor for ovarian cancer? Having ovaries. This is why all women need to be aware of ovarian cancer symptoms and keep current on check-ups.
3. If There’s No Family History of Ovarian Cancer Then You Don’t Have to Worry
If genetics only account for 10% of the most common type of ovarian cancer, then that means 90% are “sporadic.” Rather than simply look at family history, Dr. Vasilev says that women need to be aware of all potential ovarian cancer risk factors. Diabetes, obesity, not breastfeeding, never being pregnant, eating a diet high in fat, and smoking can all increase your risk of getting ovarian cancer. However, the biggest number one risk factor is your age – more than half of all ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed in women over the age of 60.
Dr. Vasilev says that “pap smears are only designed to catch cervical cancer.” In other words, there’s not a single screening test for ovarian cancer. “Right now the CA125 blood test and a pelvic ultrasound are the standard but they’re unreliable,” he explains, adding that there are a number of promising new tests in development that will hopefully be available in the next few years.
5. There Are No Early Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
There are early symptoms of ovarian cancer, but the problem is they’re pretty generic, often leading to women being diagnosed with gastrointestinal issues or menstrual cramps. These misdiagnoses are the reason that this cancer isn’t often caught until it’s stage 3, meaning it has spread throughout the body. So, if you have any symptoms of ovarian cancer, including chronic bloating, sudden changes in bowel or urine habits, abdominal or pelvic pain, pain during sex, rapid weight loss, or indigestion, insist on getting your ovaries tested just to be on the safe side.
6. You Cannot Prevent Ovarian Cancer
“There’s a lot a good diet and exercise can do to prevent ovarian cancer and many other cancers,” says Dr. Vasilev. Eating nutritious food – he suggests a Mediterranean diet based around fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fish – and getting a daily workout can boost your immune system and decrease inflammation, helping to protect you against cancer. Furthermore, these will help reduce obesity, which is another major risk factor for cancer that is under your control.
Dr. Vasilev says that “some women hear ‘ovarian cancer’ and just give up without trying to treat it, but even though most of the time it’s advanced, there are still things we can. Treatments have come a long way in the past few years.” Since this particular type of cancer is difficult to detect in the early stages, it’s often not found until it’s stage 3, which usually translates to a 15% survival rate. However, this is misleading because surgery, chemotherapy, and new biological treatments can raise the survival rate to 50%.
8. Ovarian Cysts Can Turn into Cancer
Having a growth on your ovary, even if you’re told that it’s benign, can be scary, but rest assured as Dr. Vasilev says that cysts almost never turn cancerous, nor do conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome increase your risk of cancer.
9. The HPV Vaccine Protects against Ovarian Cancer
The HPV vaccine protects against the most common strains of the HPV, which are all unrelated to ovarian cancer. However, it’s still a good vaccine to get, especially for teenagers, as it protects against cervical cancer.