DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My sister died of ovarian cancer at age 66. I can’t shake the fear that I’m going to get it too. What are my chances, since my sister had it? What kind of tests should I be getting? – R.C.

ANSWER: Having a sister (or mother or daughter) who has had ovarian cancer raises a woman’s risk of getting it from the 1 percent of the general population to 5 percent. That’s still a pretty low risk. In Canada and the United States this year, about 30,000 women will be diagnosed with this cancer.

The tragedy of ovarian cancer is the fact that, when discovered early, it’s potentially curable. Rarely is it discovered early. Early signs are so nondescript that they’re ignored or misinterpreted. Abdominal discomfort, abdominal swelling, pelvic pain, a full feeling after a light meal, bloating and having to empty the bladder frequently are some of the signs and symptoms.

The CA-125 blood test is an ovarian cancer test. It’s not used as a screening test for women without any cancer risks because it yields too many falsely positive and negative results. The test has a place for following women treated for ovarian cancer. A rise of CA-125 can indicate cancer return.

Ultrasound examination of the ovaries with the soundwave generator placed in the vagina furnishes a good view of the ovaries and is somewhat useful in detecting early cancer. It too is not recommended as a screening test for the general population of women.

However, women like you, with a family history of this cancer, are candidates for both tests. You should speak with your doctor about having them done.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When I was a child, my mother told me not to take baths, but to take showers only. She said that baths lead to bladder infections. I never have and still don’t like showers. I would love to soak in a tub, but I can’t get the infection threat out of my head. Is there proof that baths do indeed cause bladder infections? – O.W.

ANSWER: Baths haven’t been proved to be connected with bladder infections. You can soak in a tub for as long as you want.

Women get frequent bladder infections because they have short urethras, the tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside. It’s only one-third as long as men’s. Furthermore, the opening of the female urethra is in a place where there are many bacteria. Those bacteria can ascend into the bladder quite easily.

The booklet on urinary-tract infections gives the facts on how these infections occur and how they are treated — for men and women. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 1204, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6.75 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 56, and I smoked for 35 years. I quit a year ago. When I walk or climb stairs, I get pain on the left side of my chest. I thought I might have heart trouble, so I saw my doctor, who ordered a stress test. I walked on the treadmill for four minutes. The test was normal. The doctor says my heart must be all right. What do you think is causing the pain? – R.K.

ANSWER: I am still suspicious of clogged heart arteries because your story is so classical of the symptoms of heart artery disease. Four minutes on a treadmill isn’t a great “stress.” Why did you have to stop so soon? A normal four-minute test could be giving you false security.

If you cannot physically go longer on such a test, then you need a different kind of stress test. The same effect can be obtained by a pharmacological stress test – one where drugs affect the heart in the same way exercise does. And to make the test even more sensitive, a radioactive material can be injected to show if there are areas of heart muscle not getting sufficient blood.

The ultimate test is a coronary angiogram. Dye is injected into heart arteries to see if there are any obstructions. You need more studies.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My menstrual periods are so heavy and last so long that I have become anemic. I’ve been taking iron pills for four months. My blood count hasn’t gone up. Why? – G.F.

ANSWER: I can offer you a guess: You might be losing so much blood that iron can’t make up for it.

The most important issue facing you is finding out why you’re bleeding so much and getting treatment to put an end to it. If your present doctor isn’t interested in pursuing an investigation to find the answer to that question, get another. No amount of iron is going to stop the bleeding.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am on a low-sugar diet. Can I use honey as much as I want? Does it count as sugar? – R.R.

ANSWER: Honey has four sugars: fructose, glucose, maltose and sucrose. Sucrose is table sugar. Honey has to be accounted for when you are counting carbohydrates – sugars and starches. You have to add the carbohydrate content of honey to your total daily carbohydrate intake to make sure you’re not exceeding your limit.

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