According to The American Cancer Society an estimated number of 21,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, and although it’s rare, it’s also the deadliest of all female reproductive cancers.
Unlike breast, uterine, and cervical cancers which have screenings and can be detected early, only about 20 percent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed before they’re advanced.
The good news is that if ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated early, 94 percent of women will live five years or more. Another recent study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology also found that up to a third of women will survive at least 10 years.
The disease that whispers
“In years past we used to call ovarian cancer the silent killer but it’s really not completely silent, at least in some patients,” said Dr. Edward Tanner, an assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.
Ovarian cancer is now dubbed the “disease that whispers” because although the symptoms are vague and can mimic symptoms of other conditions or diseases, most women will report that they noticed them.
In fact, research shows that women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have new symptoms crop up in recent months. They also tend to occur frequently, every day or every other day and at least 12 times a month, and are more severe.
The most common signs of ovarian cancer include:
• Bloating or a swollen abdomen
• Increased abdominal size
• Urinary frequency, urgency or difficulty
• Problems eating, such as feeling full quickly after a meal
• Constipation, diarrhea
• Pelvic pain or pressure
• Pain anywhere in the abdomen
• Vaginal bleeding
• Back pain
• Painful sex
• Weight loss
• Changes in menstruation
The other problem with ovarian cancer is that it can develop quickly, even in between visits to the OB-GYN. Nevertheless, all women should have a yearly well woman visit and pelvic exam.
“As an oncologist, I do see patients that have ovarian cancer diagnosed on an annual visit where it’s caught early, perhaps several months earlier than it would have been caught if the patient hadn’t had an annual exam,” Tanner said.
The real causes of ovarian cancer remain unknown, but several factors are known to increase the chances of developing the disease. These groups of women are more likely to develop ovarian cancer:
- Women who have never been pregnant or had children
- White women, especially in Northern Europe
- Women over 50. Half of the diagnosed cases are women over 65.
- Women who have a family history of breast, ovarian, endometrial (uterus), prostate or colon cancer
- Women who had breast cancer
- Women who have a first-degree relative (mother, daughter, sister) diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
- Women with genetic mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2. (Not all women with these genetic mutations of breast cancer will develop ovarian cancer)
So far there are no tests that can reliably show if a woman has an early-stage ovarian cancer. Some diagnostic procedures include a thorough bimanual pelvic examination, diagnosticlaparoscopy, and variousx-rayprocedures.
An ultrasound can be made through the abdomen and the lower pelvic region or with a transvaginal probe. Low GI series or barium enema involve series of X-rays to highlight the other organs. CA-125 blood test is used to determine the level of CA-125, a tumor marker.
High awareness among women and their gynecologists is more than necessary. They must be aware that regular checkups, especially in cases of bloating can detect and diagnose cancer at an early stage when it can be actually cured.
Women who are at high risk due to a family history, should do regular checkups. Although there is no strong evidence, when it comes to treating menopausal symptoms, women are advised to use the lowest dose of hormone replacement therapy in the shortest period possible.
There are various treatments. According to the specialists, women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are usually advised to do a surgery, which involves removal of the uterus, tubes, ovaries and omentum. If the cancer has metastasized, the surgery may include removing of other tissues in the abdomen and pelvis, as well as parts of the colon.
Specialists explain that chemotherapy is usually given after surgery to stop the recurrence of cancer, but it is also given to reduce the cancer before surgery, especially in advanced cases. It is also used if the disease has reoccurred.
Most regimes are based on platinum agents, and there are many target-therapies. In many countries specialists practice antibodies that hinderthe blood flow to the cancer. Chemotherapy can be inserted directly into the abdomen. Many studies have confirmed the positive effect of this hyperthermic peritoneal chemotherapy during surgery.
Radiotherapy is rarely used for ovarian cancer, but it can be applied in the late stage of the disease in order to reduce pain and bleeding.