DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My mother, who was 57 years old, recently passed away from ovarian cancer. Does that put me at risk of getting it? If so, when should I start getting tested for it? I just turned 33. The thought of ovarian cancer scares me. – J.G.

ANSWER: The risk of coming down with ovarian cancer for a woman with no family history of it is 1.6 percent. When a mother has had it, the risk increases to 5 percent. From a different point of view, the chances of not getting it are 95 percent.

In 2007, more than 15,000 American women died from this cancer. If it is caught early on, it is curable. The problem is that it is rarely detected in its early stages because it is so stealthy, having few signs and symptoms. Bloating, abdominal swelling, abdominal or pelvic pain, a loss of appetite after only a few bites of food and frequent urination are some early symptoms, but they are symptoms of many other less-serious problems too. However, if these symptoms continue for two or more weeks without an explanation, a woman should have herself checked for this cancer.

Since your risk is higher than the ordinary woman’s, your doctor will keep an eye on you. When actual testing should begin is an unanswered question. The average age at which the diagnosis of this cancer is made is 63, and the incidence of it peaks in the late 60s and early 70s. With that in mind, many feel that a person whose mother has had ovarian cancer should begin testing at menopause. Your gynecologist is the one best able to set a specific date for you.

The combination of the blood test CA-125 and ultrasound comprise a good screening for someone with a family history of the illness.

Investigators at Yale University have devised a blood test that evaluates six different blood markers, and feel this might become the breakthrough test for early detection. One lab markets the test under the name OvaSure. Time will tell if this shall become a standard screening tool.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 42. Last April, my gynecologist gave me a CA-125 blood test for ovarian cancer. It was slightly elevated. The test was repeated six times and always was slightly elevated. My new gynecologist says he is not at all concerned. None of my doctors is. I am extremely worried. I have had several ultrasounds and an MRI. If I were your daughter, mother, sister or wife, what would you do? – L.S.

ANSWER: No official medical body advises women not at high risk for ovarian cancer to have the CA-125 blood test. It’s not that reliable a test for the general female population. It can be positive when there is no cancer. Women with fibroids, endometriosis or infections can have a positive test. In fact, 1 percent of healthy women test positively. It also can be negative when cancer is present.

You have had many CA-125 tests, all slightly elevated. You have had ultrasounds and an MRI scan. They show no cancer. If you were my daughter, mother, sister or wife, I would tell you to forget the test.

Worry is going to create more health problems for you than is the slightly positive test.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I had unprotected sex some 20 odd years ago. Is it possible I could develop AIDS after this many years? Could I pass it to others, like when kissing a baby? – F.S.

ANSWER: If no signs and symptoms of AIDS have appeared in 20 years, the possibility of being infected with the AIDS virus is as close to zero as things can be in such matters.

AIDS isn’t transmitted by kissing.

If this idea will not stop bothering you, have the blood test and get the issue resolved permanently.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.


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