Feb. 18, 2010 -- When it comes to silent killers of women, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and hepatitis are particularly insidious. That's partly because these diseases show little or no specific symptoms, and they cause tens of thousands of deaths every year.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, and it's the number one cause of liver cancer, Oz said.
The liver is a major detoxifying organ – it creates proteins, stores energy and removes poisons. Hepatitis may be caused by viruses, alcohol, obesity, drug overdoses and even over-the-counter acetaminophen.
There are three types of hepatitis: Hepatitis A is transmitted through contaminated food, water or shellfish, and this type will show up quickly. Hepatitis B and C are sexually transmitted, or passed on through infected blood transfusions or needles, or from mother to child during pregnancy, he said.
Oz said some people can beat back the infection and others can't.
More than 150 million people around the world have hepatitis, and 15,000 Americans die of it every year.
Symptoms of Hepatitis
Signs of hepatitis include fatigue, muscle aches, pale stools and dark urine and jaundice, which refers to yellowing of the skin and eyes.
The discoloration in urine, stool and skin occurs because the liver is no longer functioning properly. Because bile isn't getting in to the stools, they become a pale whitish color. The same pigment that should have been in stools instead goes into the urine, explaining its dark color. The pigment also passes into the skin, giving it a yellow appearance.
Uterine cancer is the top cancer of the reproductive system.
The National Cancer Institute estimated that there were 42,000 cases of the disease in 2009 -- and more than 7,700 deaths.
Symptoms of Uterine Cancer
Abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of uterine cancer, Oz said. This may include heavy menstrual periods, spotting or bleeding in between periods or any bleeding after menopause.
In addition to the previous symptoms, any fever, increased body hair growth, deepened voice, weight gain or loss or new acne are signs, he said.
You should call your doctor if you have any of these abnormalities. Most are easily treatable and aren't likely to be cancer, but you must tell your doctor what's happening to you.
When you describe your symptoms, your doctor should do a history and physical exam, a pelvic exam, a pap smear, a tissue sample endometrial biopsy. Your doctor may also order an ultrasound scan to look inside your pelvic area, Oz noted.
Oz said this cancer had the worst survival rate when he was training. Women diagnosed in the earliest stages of ovarian cancer have a 5-year survival rate of 93 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
Still, only about 20 percent of ovarian cancers are found before tumor growth has spread beyond the ovaries, he said.
An estimated 21,500 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year, according to the National Institutes of Health, which reports that 14,600 of those women have died.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
If you experience bloating, belly and pelvic pain and difficulty eating for more than two weeks, tell a doctor. Routine screening has not been recommended by any professional society, so you must be vigilant for symptoms.
A history of ovarian cancer or a strong history of breast cancer in your family puts you at higher risk, Oz added.
For more information about these three silent killers, click HERE for the resources of the National Institutes of Health.