Susan (Sue) Cesareo, 72, was a happily retired school nurse, until suddenly she was a woman with what she called a “devastating diagnosis”. Sue was diagnosed with advanced-stage ovarian cancer.
Sue had a 10-centimeter ovarian tumor. She had surgery at Danbury Hospital to remove the tumor, followed chemotherapy at The Praxair Cancer Center. Now, two years since her diagnosis, Sue is cancer-free and continuing maintenance treatment with an oral chemotherapy.
Sue said her diagnosis was shocking because she didn’t have known risk factors for ovarian cancer, and her main symptom was a “twinge” in her lower left abdomen that she felt only about once per day; she thought she just pulled a muscle. But when the feeling persisted for more than a month, she got it checked out, even though it was not debilitating or interfering with any of her normal activities.
“I encourage you to report anything unusual to your doctor, and not to be afraid to ask your doctor for screenings or tests that may be appropriate for you,” said Sue, a registered nurse with 28 years of nursing experience.
“I think it’s common for women to get to 60 years old and think, ‘I don’t need to continue routine wellness exams or screenings. I made it this long without any issues, and I’m going to continue to be fine.’ It’s important not to let your protective health down,” said Sue.
Sue Cesareo, ovarian cancer survivor
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer happens when abnormal cells grow out of control in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or peritoneum. Ovarian cancer can occur at any age but usually occurs when women are in their 50s and 60s. Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecologic cancer in the United States.
Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other gynecologic cancer mainly because symptoms are similar to common health concerns such as constipation, and they usually occur when the disease has already advanced. Further, unlike mammography for breast cancer or colonoscopy for colorectal cancer, there’s currently a lack of reliable screenings and early detection tests for ovarian cancer.
Nuvance Health is dedicated to gynecologic cancer research. Learn more here.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Common ovarian cancer symptoms include:
- Back pain
- Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
- Menstrual changes
- Pain during sex
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Upset stomach or heartburn
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge
Related article: Woman beats advanced-stage ovarian cancer during COVID-19 pandemic
What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer?
Risk factors are conditions or habits that may increase your chances of getting a disease like cancer. Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:
- Age (getting older)
- Genetic predisposition such as BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation and Lynch syndrome
- Family history of breast, colorectal, or ovarian cancer
- Personal history of:
- Endometriosis or breast, colon, or uterine cancer
- Never giving birth, having trouble getting pregnant, or having first full-term pregnancy after age 35
- Being overweight or obese
Are there ways to reduce my risk of ovarian cancer?
Having risk factors for ovarian cancer doesn’t mean you’ll get the disease. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most women who get ovarian cancer aren’t at high risk. However, modifying risk factors you can change and talking with your healthcare clinician may reduce your risk of developing the disease.
Maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy diet, and don’t smoke
Maintaining a healthy weight may reduce your risk of ovarian cancer. More research is needed to determine how diet and smoking affect ovarian cancer risk. However, not smoking and eating a nutritious diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and fiber may reduce your risk of many types of cancer.
Talk with your healthcare clinician about your personal and family history
Nuvance Health encourages you to speak with your primary care clinician or gynecologist if you have a genetic predisposition, or family or personal health history that may increase your risk for ovarian cancer. Your healthcare clinician may recommend consulting a genetic counselor or close monitoring.
Know your body and talk with your healthcare clinician about any unusual symptoms
Although ovarian cancer symptoms can be vague and mirror other benign conditions, Nuvance Health encourages you to speak with your healthcare clinician if you have persistent symptoms that aren’t normal for you. It’s worth a conversation with your healthcare clinician to rule out anything that might be serious.
The bottom line: Take charge of your health by arming yourself with facts about ovarian cancer symptoms and risk factors. You may be able to reduce your risk of developing the disease by modifying risk factors you can change and talking with your healthcare clinician.
Amy Forni, Manager, Public Relations
(203) 739 7478 | Amy.Forni@nuvancehealth.org