Ovarian cancer is a cancer affecting women’s ovaries. Ovaries are reproductive organs in women’s bodies that regulate the release of eggs and secrete the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer can strike women of any age, but usually occurs in women past menopause. Roughly 1 in 60 women will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime, and unfortunately, ovarian cancer has the highest mortality rate of women’s reproductive cancers. Ovarian cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths for women.
Several risk factors exist for ovarian cancer: family history, age, number of menstrual cycles, and breast cancer. Women without any of these risk factors, however, can also develop ovarian cancer. Family history risk affects women who’s mother, sister, or daughter has had ovarian cancer. A history of other reproductive cancers within family history can also increase ovarian cancer risk. Women age 55 and older are at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer as compared to younger women. The higher a number of menstrual cycles a woman experiences before menopause, the higher her risk of developing ovarian cancer. Also, if a woman has had breast cancer, her risk of ovarian cancer is also increased.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague and present in many other common ailments. Bloating, fullness, constipation, indigestion, and irregular vaginal bleeding can be signs of ovarian cancer. Most women experiencing these symptoms do not have the disease, and many women with ovarian cancer do not experience all the symptoms. Due to the vagueness of the symptoms, ovarian cancer can be difficult to diagnose. Diagnosis of ovarian cancer usually occurs after the cancer has already spread to other areas of the body contributing to the higher mortality rate. When ovarian cancer is found early, the survival rate is much higher with 90% of women living longer than five years past diagnosis.
Beyond the vague symptoms of the disease, ovarian cancer does not have a reliable screening test. If ovarian cancer is suspected in a patient after a variety of imaging studies and x-rays, a biopsy is usually performed to confirm ovarian cancer and the stage of the disease. If possible, the entire tumor or growth will be removed during surgery. Ovarian cancer is divided in to four stages. In stage 1, the cancer is confined to one or both ovaries, and in stage 2, the cancer is in one or both ovaries and extends in to the pelvic tissue. For stage 3 ovarian cancer, it has spread to the abdominal wall in addition to the pelvic tissue and ovaries. In stage 4, the most severe form of ovarian cancer, the cancer has spread to parts of the body beyond the abdomen.
Treatment of ovarian cancer involves surgery to remove as much cancer as possible followed by chemotherapy. In some cases of ovarian cancer, treatment can also include radiation. The ovarian cancer marker, CA-125, is monitored to track progression of the disease and success of treatment. As surgery and chemotherapy work, the CA-125 levels should decrease. Ovarian cancer patient treatment can also include holistic treatment such as cancer support groups and dietary changes.
Research for ovarian cancer needs to be increased to find better diagnostic tools and raise positive outcomes for patients. As rates of women being diagnosed with ovarian cancer have increased in recent years, studies need to be performed to understand, prevent, and cure ovarian cancer. Awareness and funds need to be raised to increase attention and focus on this extremely deadly disease for women. Many fundraising walks and runs can be found supporting Ovarian Cancer research, and information on where these walks take place and how to donate to research can be found at The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.
Ovarian Cancer http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ovarian-cancer/DS00293
National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/ovarian
The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund http://www.ocrf.org/