Spotting Ovarian Cancer
So what should you be on the lookout for? "If somebody notices bloating or a feeling that their abdomen is increasing in size–and not just because you had too much to eat over the weekend–a progressive increase in abdnominal size," says Lindner. Other signs are feeling full too quickly after eating and changes in bowel or bladder habits (like a difficulty or urgency urinating or change in the size of the stool).
While these are all a little vague, the key is noticing if any of these symptoms persist for at least 2-3 weeks or progressively get worse. If that's the case, head to your doctor. Of course, many of these symptoms may seem like gastrointestinal issues, which is another reason it can be so hard to spot ovarian cancer. That's why Lindner suggests simply asking your doctor "Could it be my ovaries?" Especially if you have a family history. In this case, your doctor may order a transvaginal ultrasound, where a small probe is inserted in your vagina to take a better look at your ovaries and see if there are any problems.
MORE: Why More Women May Start Removing Their Ovaries
Reducing Your Risk
The first step in assessing your risk in knowing your family history of breast and ovarian cancer–both of which can make you more likely to develop the disease. If these are on your family tree, Lindner suggests genetic counseling and genetic testing to determine if you carry genetic mutations on BRCA1 or BRCA2, which would greatly increase your risk of ovarian cancer. "The earlier you talk about it, the sooner you can make decisions, do preventative things, and be proactive about your health," says Lindner. (Read about why Lindsay Avner, CEO of Bright Pink, plans to remove her ovaries.)
If you don't have a family history, there are still things you can do to protect yourself. For starters, just being on birth control for five years cuts your risk of ovarian cancer in half, says Lindner, and staying on it longer can reduce the risk even more. You can also think about what comes after The Pill. "People who have children younger and have breastfed babies have a lower risk of ovarian cancer," says Lindner. And most importantly, know your "normal" with the help of this guide from Bright Pink, so that you can tell your gyno if anything seems out of the ordinary with your ovaries.