There are lots of stories on the internet about people who discovered that they had ovarian cancer because a sneaky or ordinary symptom gave them pause. These stories can be immensely helpful in spreading awareness about the lesser-known signs of ovarian cancer, but they can also cause unnecessary worry that a late period or a random cramp is way more serious than it actually is. So what's the deal?
It can be tough to weed out what you actually need to know about your ovarian health — or what you need to worry about. "Many people end up with a lot of guilt thinking they didn't pay enough attention to their bodies," says Roisin O'Cearbhaill, MD, a medical oncologist who specialises in gynaecological cancers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. "That's unfair, because they're often very vague symptoms."
The ovaries (those reproductive organs responsible for producing eggs and hormones) are made up of three types of cells, all of which can develop into tumours, according to the American Cancer Society. Most ovarian tumours develop on the outer surface of the ovary, which can then metastasise and spread to other parts of the body — and that's typically when symptoms like bloating and abdominal discomfort would kick in.
Understanding a few key facts about your ovarian health can inform the questions you ask your gynaecologist or primary care doctor at your annual checkups (which, BTW, you should be having). Ahead, Dr. O'Cearbhaill explains the four things young people should know about ovarian cancer.