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Ovarian Cancer--The Silent Killer

Ovarian cancer has been called the “silent killer” in women because the symptoms are often not obvious until the disease has progressed. The symptoms may actually be mild and pushed aside as nothing serious.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer can range from a feeling of fullness or discomfort in the pelvic region to unexplained indigestion, gas, bloating, abdominal and pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding and swelling. Of course, having these symptoms does not mean that you have cancer, but they can mean that you should discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Early detection is the secret to overcoming a disease that is difficult to detect.

Ovarian Cancer--The Silent Killer

Research has shown that one-third of American women will get some form of cancer in their lifetime and approximately 1 ½ percent of those cases will be cancer involving one or both ovaries. Unfortunately, when the symptoms go unnoticed, approximately 75 percent of ovarian cancer cases will have spread to the abdomen before it is detected and cause death among patients within five years. However, if the ovarian cancer is found at an early stage, there is actually a 90 percent curable rate.

Today, more women are realizing the importance of scheduling regular gynecological examinations, which has helped in identifying the “silent killer” and treating it a lot faster. If any abnormalities are noted during routine examinations, the physician is able to order further testing, which may include an ultrasound, laparoscopy or chest X-ray. In addition, if ovarian cancer is suspected, a cancer protein known as the CA 125 can be detected by a blood test. However, even if the patient does not have cancer, a positive result is possible. A positive result can be detected if the patient suffers from fibroid tumors, endometriosis, pelvic infection, pregnancy or other non-gynecological conditions.

Although progress is being made, there is not a 100% reliable test that will detect ovarian cancer. By seeing your physician for regular pelvic examinations and getting an annual Pap smear, your risk for developing ovarian cancer will be reduced. Further, genetic testing can also be performed to lower your risk of developing cancer. If you have had an immediate family member (mother or sister) who has had ovarian cancer, your risk of developing the disease is about three times more likely.

Women you choose to have genetic counseling and testing due to a family history of ovarian cancer can extend their chances of survival. Studies have shown that testing should be done ten years prior to the age of the cancer diagnosis in the family member, so that any cancer can be found in the early stages and treatment can have a higher success rate.

During genetic counseling, the health care provider will collect detailed family information to help determine the risk for developing ovarian cancer and give the patient information to understand the best choices to make to prevent cancer. At that time, the patient may also decide whether or not she would like to undergo DNA testing to decide if she is an actual carrier of the cancer gene.

Women who have gone through genetic counseling may also choose to undergo a surgical procedure called oophorectomy or surgical removal of an ovary or ovaries as a preventative solution to ovarian cancer when their family history is strong. Although this surgical procedure is not a guarantee against developing ovarian cancer, it will reduce the risk by 75 to 90 percent. Women who undergo tubal ligation and hysterectomy can also reduce the risk of ovarian cancer up to 70 percent as well.

Studies have that there are other ways to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer besides undergoing surgical procedures. One way is to use oral contraceptives for at least five years. Using birth control for the short-term can cut the chance of developing ovarian cancer in half. Some studies even show that the longer you use birth control, the lower your risk is for developing cancer.

Research has further shown that women having two or three children can cut your risk of developing ovarian cancer by as much as 30 percent over women who never conceive or give birth. Further, women who give birth to five or more children can reduce their risk up to 50 percent, and mothers who breastfeed their children will reduce their risk even more.

Another precaution to take to lower your risk of ovarian cancer is to avoid using feminine powder or feminine deodorant sprays, as studies have shown that using these products can almost double the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

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