ABOUT OVARIAN CANCER
TOP 5 IMPORTANT POINTS:
- Symptoms are vague and increase over time but do exist—learn to recognize the signs and symptoms and be your own health advocate.
- All women are at risk for ovarian cancer, but some may have an increased risk. One in 71 women will develop the disease in her lifetime.
- Early detection increases survival rate. If caught early, there is more than a 90% survival rate. However, most cases are diagnosed in the later stages and the survival rate is low.
- There is no screening test for ovarian cancer. A Pap test DOES NOT detect the disease.
- There is no known method to prevent ovarian cancer, but some things appear to reduce a woman’s risk of developing the disease.
Ovarian cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the tissues of the ovary. An ovary is one of two small reproductive organs — about the size of an almond or slightly larger — located on each side of the uterus that produce female hormones and eggs. Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from all gynecologic cancers and the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 22,280 American women will be diagnosed this year and 15,500 will die of the disease.
Because each woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer has a different profile, it is impossible to give a general prognosis. If diagnosed and treated early when the cancer is confined to the ovary, the five-year survival rate is nearly 93 percent. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer symptoms are non-specific and there is no effective screening test for the disease. As a result, only 20 percent of all ovarian cancer cases are caught at an early stage. Most women are diagnosed at advanced stages, and fewer than 50 percent live longer than five years after diagnosis.
SYMPTOMS OF OVARIAN CANCER
- Swelling of the stomach, sudden weight gain, or bloating
- Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain or pressure
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
OTHER SYMPTOMS OF OVARIAN CANCER CAN INCLUDE:
- Feeling very tired all the time
- Upset stomach or heartburn
- Back pain
- Pain during sex
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
These symptoms are common for some women, and may not mean there’s ovarian cancer. If, however, these symptoms are new and persist daily for more than two or three weeks, a woman should ask her physician about ovarian cancer. If there is suspicion of the disease, she should be referred to a gynecologic oncologist before undergoing surgery.
Who’s at Risk?
It is important to always remember that ALL women are at risk for developing ovarian cancer, but some may have increased risk.
- Family History – A woman can inherit an increased risk for ovarian cancer from either her mother’s or father’s side of her family, particularly if a first-degree relative (grandmother, mother, sister, or daughter) has, or has had cancer of the breast, colon, uterus, or rectum. Women with a strong family history of ovarian cancer are more likely to develop the disease at an early age (younger than 50).
- BRCA1 or BRCA2 Mutations – Studies show that inheriting a defect in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene can also increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer by about 15 to 40 percent. Normally, these genes help to prevent cancer, but if a woman has inherited a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, her ovaries and breasts are more susceptible to the development of cancer.
- Women of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish descent have a potentially greater risk for ovarian cancer since they have a higher risk of carrying BRCA mutations.
What are some of the risk factors linked to ovarian cancer?
While the presence of one or more risk factors may increase a woman’s chance of getting ovarian cancer, it does not necessarily mean that she will develop the disease. Risk factors include:
- Genetic predisposition
- Personal or family history of breast, ovarian, colon, or rectum cancer
- Increasing age. The disease affects all ages, but most women are 55+ when diagnosed
- Never pregnant
- Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy
Can Ovarian Cancer be Prevented?
At present, there is no known method to prevent ovarian cancer, but some things appear to reduce a woman’s risk of developing the disease. They include:
- Oral contraception: Birth control pills reduce the risk of ovarian cancer especially among women who use them for five or more years.
- Breast feeding and pregnancy: Having one or more children, particularly if the first is born before age 25, and breast feeding may decrease a woman’s risk.
- Tubal ligation: This is a surgical procedure in which the fallopian tubes are tied to prevent pregnancy. This procedure reduces the relative risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Hysterectomy: A hysterectomy, the surgical removal of the uterus, has been demonstrated to reduce the relative risk of ovarian cancer. A woman should not have a hysterectomy exclusively to avoid the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Preventive Surgery: A salpingo-oophorectomy is the surgical removal of one or both ovaries and the fallopian tubes. A preventive, or “prophylactic” salpingo-oophorectomy is only recommended for high-risk patients.