September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and as such, it’s a good time to learn more about the disease. Part of the Ilara Health vision advocates for early detection which is why we believe in creating awareness of non-communicable diseases. To kick this off, here’s a round-up of the latest news and updates on this disease:
- Ovarian cancer is the eighth most commonly occurring cancer in women and the 18th most commonly occurring cancer overall
- That being said, the rates of ovarian cancer diagnoses have slowly gone down over the past 20 years, but it is still the fifth leading cause of cancer death for women and is the second most common reproductive organ cancer for women
- Over 80 percent of women with ovarian cancer have epithelial ovarian cancer
- About 1 in 10 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are likely to have inherited a faulty gene in their family. This faulty gene increases the risk of developing the disease
Ovarian Cancer Explained
Ovarian cancer encompasses cancers of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the primary peritoneum, which is the tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers the abdominal organs.
There are three types of ovarian cancers in adults:
- Ovarian epithelial cancer, which starts in the tissue covering the ovary, lining the fallopian tube, or the peritoneum. It is the most aggressive type of ovarian cancer.
- Ovarian germ cell tumors, which start in the egg or germ cells.
- Ovarian low malignant potential (LMP) tumors, that begin in the tissue covering the ovary and are characterized by abnormal cells that may become cancerous, but usually do not. This is the least aggressive ovarian cancer as it doesn’t grow as fast nor does it spread in the same way as epithelial cancer.
Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread to the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, it is more difficult to treat. It may not cause early signs or symptoms, and it is difficult to screen for the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.
One of the most important aspects of treating ovarian cancer successfully is catching it as early as possible. That’s why it’s so important for every woman to know the risks and symptoms.
Risk Factors Associated with Ovarian Cancer
Risk factors for developing ovarian cancer include:
- Being middle-aged or older
- Having a family history of ovarian cancer
- Having a genetic mutation known as BRCA1 or BRCA2
- Having had breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer in the past
- Having endometriosis
- Having never given birth or have had trouble becoming pregnant
- Family history and the presence of inherited gene mutations.
There are tests that can detect mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which increase the risk of female breast and ovarian cancers and some additional types of cancers.
Other risk factors include the use of estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy and the use of fertility drugs.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Stomach or back pain
- Feeling full very quickly after eating
- Needing to urinate more or less frequently
- Experiencing changes in bowel patterns
- Pain during intercourse
- Unexplained weight loss
Having signs and symptoms does not mean you have ovarian cancer, but it means that you need to see a doctor. Don’t panic, wait for the doctor’s diagnosis.
Tests used to investigate changes that may point to ovarian cancer include:
- Physical examination – where the doctor checks for masses or lumps by feeling your abdomen and doing an internal vaginal examination
- Blood tests – checking for chemical proteins produced by cancer cells (also known as tumor markers)
- Imaging and investigations – including abdominal and transvaginal ultrasounds, CT scans, MRI scans, and PET scans.
These tests and scans show abnormalities, they do not diagnose ovarian cancer. The only way to confirm a diagnosis of ovarian cancer is by taking a biopsy and looking at the cells under a microscope.
This procedure is done during an operation, which means that the cancer is diagnosed and treated at the same time.
Treatment Options Available
Treatment for ovarian cancer patients is different and depends on the type of cancer and if, and how far, cancer has spread.
Treatment for ovarian cancer may be one or include a combination of surgery and chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
New chemotherapy (chemo) drugs and drug combinations are being tested.
Targeted therapy is a newer type of cancer treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack cancer cells while doing little damage to normal cells.
The key to ovarian cancer survival rates going up lies in the development of better detection methods. If detected early, the five-year survival rate is more than 92%.
Women deserve better options for ovarian cancer prevention; we need better screening options and more funding for ovarian cancer research. As a parting shot to the ladies, take your health into your own hands this September and educate yourself on this topic. (be on the lookout for teal ribbons)
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This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Seek advice from your healthcare professional.