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September marks Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, a time to support current patients and educate the general public on ovarian cancer. 


Ovarian cancer is estimated to affect just under 20,000 women this year alone. According to the American Public Health Association, American Indian/ Alaska Native (AI/AN) and White women had similar ovarian and uterine cancer death rates.

Regional differences in the incidence of mortality of ovarian cancer among AI/AN women in the U.S. were significant, though. 

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Despite regional differences, AI/ANs overall have higher rates of cancers and other conditions, mainly because AI/ANs are getting screened too late, if at all. Although many AI/AN people have access to the Indian Health Service (IHS), the IHS is chronically underfunded.  

Ovarian cancer happens when there are changes in genetic material (DNA). Often, the exact cause of these genetic changes are unknown. 

Since the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer can be easy to miss, and no diagnostic test exists for ovarian cancer, awareness of the disease is extremely important for early detection and intervention. 

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Pelvic/abdominal pain
  • Urinary frequency
  • Fatigue
  • Menstrual changes
  • Back pain
  • Upset stomach, heartburn, or constipation 

Certain factors increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. These risk factors include: 

  • Being a woman
  • Overweight or obese
  • Childbirth later in life or never having a full-term pregnancy
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • A family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer or colorectal cancer
  • A personal history of breast cancer
  • An inherited genetic mutation (BRCA1, BRCA2)
  • A family cancer syndrome (Lynch syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, MUTYH-associated polyposis)
  • Fertility treatment
  • Smoking

Your healthcare provider may suggest that you have genetic testing to look for the gene changes that raise the risk for ovarian cancer. Knowing whether or not you have the gene may help your provider decide on your treatment plan. 

If you are 63 years of age or older, you should talk to your healthcare provider or call your local Indian Health Service Clinic. 

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The Native News Health Desk is made possible by a generous grant from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation as well as sponsorship support from the American Dental Association. This grant funding and sponsorship support have no effect on editorial consideration in Native News Online. 
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