New York State Department of Health Recognizes Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

Ovarian Cancer Can be Hard to Detect; Knowing Family History and Getting Checked for Symptoms are Vital to Early Detection

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 15, 2023) – The New York State Department of Health recognizes September as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Anyone who has ovaries can be diagnosed with the disease, including women, transgender men, and nonbinary or gender nonconforming individuals. Each year, nearly 1,400 New Yorkers who have ovaries are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and nearly 900 die of the disease.

"When my wife Gail, was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer in 2011 we were stunned. Her symptoms were vague and non-specific," State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. "Thankfully, due to expert treatment she is healthy and happy 12 years later. The best way to find ovarian cancer early, when it may be easier to treat, is to talk to a doctor if you are having symptoms that might be a sign of ovarian cancer or have a family history of ovarian cancer."

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths among women and people with ovaries in New York State. Ovarian cancer is best treated when found early. Anyone with symptoms of ovarian cancer, which can include feeling bloated, abdominal discomfort or backaches, changes in menstrual flow, pain during sexual intercourse, gas or indigestion that can't otherwise be explained, nausea or loss of appetite, fever, and fatigue, should talk to a health care provider. Individuals should also be aware of their family history and discuss any concerns with a health care provider.

Certain factors can increase an individual's risk of developing the disease. These risk factors include the following:

  • Family history: Anyone who has ovaries who also has a close relative who has had ovarian, breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer is at an increased risk for ovarian cancer.
  • Genetics: Anyone who has ovaries who also has certain genetic changes (BRCA1, BRCA2 and Lynch Syndrome, also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer) is at higher risk for getting ovarian cancer. Up to 10% of ovarian cancers may be due to genetic factors.
  • Personal history: Anyone who has ovaries who also has a personal history of cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum has a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Reproductive history: Anyone who has ovaries who also has never been pregnant has an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.

There is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, but other risk reduction measures noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include having used birth control pills for five or more years; having had a tubal ligation, both ovaries removed, both fallopian tubes removed, or a hysterectomy; having given birth; and some studies show that women who breastfeed for a year or more may have a modestly reduced risk of ovarian cancer.

For anyone diagnosed with ovarian cancer, ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist for treatment. Gynecologic oncologists are doctors who are specially trained to treat cancers such as cervical cancer, endometrial cancer, uterine cancer, or ovarian cancer. Find a nearby gynecologic oncologist at Foundation for Women's Cancer or the National Cancer Institute's "Choosing a Cancer Care Specialist" webpages.

Ovarian cancer resources and educational materials can be found here.

Statistics about ovarian cancer can be found here.