The American Cancer Society estimates that 22,440 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2017 and approximately 14,080 women will die from the disease. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women age 63 years and older. Approximately 1 in 75 women will develop ovarian cancer – more than any other reproductive cancer.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
Cancer occurs when cells in the body function abnormally. When these rogue cells metastasize, or spread, they can travel to any part of the body, spreading cancer as well. Cancer that begins in the ovaries is called ovarian cancer.
There are three main types of cells in the ovariesand they can all develop into a different type of tumor. The types of tumors include:
Epithelial tumors– These tumors start from the cells that cover the outside of the ovary. This type of tumor is the most common of the three.
Germ cell tumors– These tumors start from the ova (the cells that produce the egg in the reproductive system).
Stromal tumors – These tumors start from structural tissue cells that hold the ovary together and produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
When a tumor is benign, or non-cancerous, it can be removed with surgery. Once a tumor has been diagnosed as cancerous, the treatment plan becomes more involved.
The Importance of Early Detection
As with any malignant diagnosis, early detection is key when fighting ovarian cancer. With early detection, patients have a 94% chance of surviving past five years of diagnosis.
A women’s wellness exam is one way of detecting ovarian cancer. Even with routine examination of the ovaries, it is still difficult to locate an issue with them through pelvic exam alone. While the pap smear test is proven effective for early detection of cervical cancer, it is not an appropriate test for ovarian cancer.
Patients should take note of symptoms signaling a larger issue and relay them to their health care providers. Ovarian cancer often presents without symptoms, but a woman should mention anything that feels out of the ordinary for her body so that it might be examined further.
Just as the mammogram has successfully located breast cancer, screening tests and exams are used to detect a disease, like cancer, in people who don’t have any symptoms. The two most common tests used in detecting early stages of ovarian cancer are the transvaginal ultrasound (using sound waves to look at the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries) and the CA-125 blood test (measuring protein in the blood as a cancer marker).
There is room for improvement in the medical field regarding ovarian cancer screening tests, but for now, being proactive and detecting it early is the best practice.
Once ovarian cancer has been diagnosed, there are treatment options available. First, the cancer must be staged. Most ovarian cancers are staged during surgery when tissue is taken. Treatment varies depending on the stage of the cancer and whether or not it’s already spread.
One or more treatment options may be recommended post staging; these includeSurgery, Chemotherapy, Hormone therapy, Targeted therapy, and Radiation therapy. In addition, clinical research trials are controlled studies that exist to gain a better understanding of the cancer – while providing patients an alternativeapproach. Alternative or complementary treatment methods also exist, and they include: dietary supplements, medical marijuana, and placebos.
Learn more about Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and hear stories from real ovarian cancer survivors.