Ovarian Cancer is the fifth leading cause of death among women in the United States and is the most deadly of the gynecologic cancers.
It is estimated that in 2015, approximately 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and about 15,500 will die from the disease.
Ovarian Cancer is not an uncommon disease, occurring in 1 of every 72 women
When ovarian cancer is detected early, before it has spread beyond the ovaries, more than 90% of women will survive longer than five years. Only 15% of women are diagnosed in the early stages.
Currently, 50% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer die from the disease within five years. When diagnosed in advanced stages, the chance of five- year survival is only 44%.
Ovarian cancer is often difficult to diagnose because symptoms may be subtle, are easily confused with other diseases and because there is no single reliable easy-to-administer screening tool.
Historically ovarian cancer was called the “silent killer” because symptoms were not thought to develop until the chance of cure was poor. However, recent studies have shown this term is untrue and that the following symptoms are much more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than women in the general population. These symptoms include:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
Women with ovarian cancer report that symptoms are persistent and represent a change from normal for their bodies. The frequency and/or number of such symptoms are key factors in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Several studies show that even early stage ovarian cancer can produce these symptoms.
Women who have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks should see their doctor,
preferably a gynecologist. Prompt medical evaluation may lead to detection at the earliest possible
stage of the disease. Early stage diagnosis is associated with an improved prognosis.
Several other symptoms have been commonly reported by women with ovarian cancer. These symptoms include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities. However, these other symptoms are not as useful in identifying ovarian cancer because they are also
found in equal frequency in women in the general population who do not have ovarian cancer.
Consult a healthcare professional if any symptoms persist for more than two weeks and are unusual for you. A Pap test does not detect ovarian cancer. Experts recommend a pelvic/rectal exam, a transvaginal sonogram, and a CA 125 blood test. If ovarian cancer is suspected, it is crucial to see a gynecologic oncologist who specializes in women’s cancers.
The staging of ovarian cancer is divided into four stages. Decisions about treatment vary based on the stage.
The goal of surgery is to optimally remove as much of the malignant process as possible. Unless the disease is confined to the ovary, surgery usually involves removing both ovaries, the uterus, fallopian tubes and the omentum.
Surgery is typically followed by chemotherapy. During and after chemotherapy, doctors monitor a woman’s progress with pelvic exams and with the CA-125 blood test. While the CA-125 blood test is not a reliable screening tool, it does reliably indicate whether the disease is recurring in women who have already been treated.
- Ovarian cancer is confined to one or both ovaries.
- Cancer is in one or both ovaries and has spread to other parts of the pelvis.
- Cancer is in one or both ovaries and has spread to nearby lymph nodes or to other abdominal organs, excluding the liver.
- Cancer is in one or both ovaries and has spread to the liver or sites outside the abdomen.
Like any cancer, why one woman gets ovarian cancer and another does not remains a mystery.
- Women of any age are at risk, however risk increases with age.
- If you have a personal or family history of ovarian, breast, colon or uterine cancer.
- If you have not borne a child.
The overwhelming majority of women who get ovarian cancer have no known risk factors.