Knowledge is power, and when it comes to ovarian cancer and prostate cancer, understanding symptoms and risk factors gives seniors and their families options in pursuing positive health outcomes. Seniors in particular need to know about these cancers for two key reasons: 1) Ovarian and prostate cancers often impact seniors later in life, and 2) Early detection of these two cancers can lead to diagnosis at an earlier and thus more curable stage of the disease.

September being both Ovarian and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month prompts all of us in the senior community to learn more, talk to our doctors about family medical history, risk factors, symptoms, and available medical screenings, and increase our self-awareness of potential warning signs. This Mayo Clinic article explains the importance of providing family medical history to your doctor and what specific information to offer.

Thanks to dedicated research efforts, more information is becoming available about what causes ovarian and prostate cancers, how to look for symptoms and what preventative steps can be taken. Earlier this year, Duke Health issued a report on hereditary prostate cancer’s link to a family history of breast and ovarian cancer. Duke recommends that men provide their doctors a family history of cancer that includes their female relatives. Medical News Today covered a study identifying “a new mutation associated with early-onset ovarian and prostate cancer that is passed down the paternal line through the X chromosome.”

Here are a few facts about ovarian cancer and prostate cancer you need to know:

Catching ovarian cancer early is problematic because its symptoms are broad.

The median age at which women are diagnosed is 63, with ovarian cancer rates highest in women aged 55-64 years. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 73, according to the American Cancer Society.

Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in American men.

It affects 17 percent of men, with age playing a role in the likelihood of developing the disease. More than 65 percent of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over the age of 65, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. The chance of developing prostate cancer becomes more common for men 70 or older.

Here are four common misconceptions about ovarian and prostate cancers:

No symptoms mean no cancer – In their early stages, both ovarian and prostate cancer are among the most asymptomatic cancers. When symptoms are experienced, often they are attributed to something else. The key to early detection is persistence of symptoms. The main symptoms of ovarian cancer are stomach or pelvic pain, bloating and increased stomach size, feeling full quickly or difficulty eating, and urinating more frequently. The typical symptoms of prostate cancer are trouble urinating or frequent urination, blood in the urine or semen and pain in the spine/hips/ribs.

The Pap smear and PSA test screens for cancer – The Pap test is an effective tool for early detection of cervical cancer, but there is no screening test for the early detection of ovarian cancer. The PSA test in itself is not a cancer test; rather, it measures levels of prostate-specific antigen in the blood. New research points to the possibility of a Pap test detecting ovarian and endometrial cancer when it is subjected to genetic testing.

It doesn’t run in my family, so I’m safe – The BRCA gene mutation as it relates to breast cancer has gotten a lot of media attention in recent years. But women with the BRCA gene mutation also have a 35-60% increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, according to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.

A family history of prostate cancer increases a man’s history of being diagnosed to 1 in 3, but of all men, 1 in 6 will be diagnosed in their lifetime. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, a man whose father or brother had prostate cancer is twice as likely to develop the disease. Black men are more likely to develop prostate cancer than anyone else, and scientists do not know why.

Ovarian and prostate cancers are not treatable – Up to 90 percent of women whose ovarian cancer is detected early can be cured. The disease is still treatable in later stages with primary options being surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapy.

Senior men with prostate cancer need to discuss when to start treatment with their doctor or health care professional. Treatment may not have to start right away if the cancer is at an early stage and growing slowly, or the senior patient has other illnesses that are difficult to care for.

Learn more about the symptoms and signs of ovarian and prostate cancers

Cancer awareness is at an all-time high, but still ovarian and prostate cancers can creep up on seniors and impact their health. Both ovarian cancer and prostate cancer often are referred to “silent killers,” but they don’t have to be. Seniors can arm themselves by being aware of symptoms, listening closely to their bodies and communicating concerns and questions to their doctor or other health professional.


Written by Michelle Flores, Amada blog contributor. Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash.