Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynecologic cancer, affecting one in 71 U.S. women. Because there's no accurate screening test, most cases are diagnosed in stages III or IV, with five-year survival rates of 71% and 31%, respectively.
But four out of five women over 40 have never discussed ovarian cancer risk with their doctor, a study in the American Journal of Nursing found. "Many women mistakenly believe the Pap test is a screening for ovarian cancer," says Suzy Lockwood-Rayermann, author-researcher of the AJN study. Her advice:
Be your own advocate.
Symptoms often mimic other conditions. See your doctor if you have abdominal swelling, bloating or pain that lasts more than a few weeks.
Know your history.
Tell your doctor about cancer in family members. A history of ovarian cancer isn't the only red flag. A family history of breast and colon cancers also increases risk for ovarian cancer.
"The primary factor is age, especially after menopause," Lockwood-Rayermann says. Most cases occur after 55. Infertility also may raise risk. Have a conversation with your doctor.