Ovarian Cancer Awareness

Ovarian Cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of the ovary. Most ovarian cancers are either ovarian epithelial carcinomas (cancer that begins in the cells on the surface of the ovary) or malignant germ cell tumors (cancer that begins in egg cells).

Unfortunately, it is most often diagnosed in the advanced stages when the cancer has already started to spread to other organs. Because of this, ovarian cancer is known as a "silent killer". Treatment of ovarian cancer is highly effective when it is found in the early stages.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other gynecologic cancer in the U.S., but it accounts for only about 3% of all cancers in women. This is because most cases are diagnosed in the more advanced stages.Consequently, it is very important to be aware of risk factors and the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Risk Factors
  • Family history: Women with a family history of ovarian, breast, uterus, colon or rectum cancer are at an increased risk.
  • Personal history: There is a correlation between ovarian, breast, uterus, colon and rectum cancer. Consequently, a woman who has had one of these cancers is at an increased risk for the others.
  • Age: Women who are 55 or older are most likely to develop ovarian cancer, and most commonly after menopause.
  • Childbearing Status: Women who have never had a child are at an increased risk.
  • Ovarian Cysts: Women who have had cysts after menopause are at a higher risk. Ovarian cysts before menopause are extremely common and do not show a correlation with ovarian cancer.
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy: Studies have shown a correlation between taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and the development of ovarian cancer. This correlation is found most often with the older HRT drugs.
There are also many factors that can lower your risk for developing ovarian cancer. The majority of these preventive measures are related to a decrease in the number of ovulations (when an egg is released from an ovary) in a woman's lifetime.They include:
  • Using oral contraceptives
  • Having at least one child
  • Breast-feeding
  • Having a tubal ligation (when the Fallopian tubes are sealed shut in order prevent fertilization).
  • Having a hysterectomy(when the uterus is surgically removed to prevent fertilization).
  • Practicing healthy behaviors including a healthy diet, regular exercise, and getting plenty of rest.
Symptoms
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often very vague and are similar to a number of different ailments. You should see your doctor if you persistently have any of the following symptoms:
  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Back pain
  • Increased urgency or frequency of urination
  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Abnormal or postmenopausal bleeding
Prevention and Detection
Currently, research is being conducted to help develop better screening tests for ovarian cancer. At this time, it is recommended to have yearly check-ups with your gynecologist. This means that women should continue to see a gynecologist even after menopause. If you are at an increased risk for ovarian cancer or if you begin to develop symptoms, your doctor may recommend two other tests which are usually given in combination:
  • Transvaginal ultrasound - A physician will use a probe to generate computer pictures of the pelvic region and will look for abnormalities in these pictures.
  • CA-125 Blood Test – A physician takes a blood sample to test for the protein marker CA-125. High levels of CA-125 may indicate the presence of ovarian cancer but high levels may also be indicative of other conditions. Not all women with ovarian cancer have high levels of CA-125.
If your doctor has reason to believe that you may have ovarian cancer, they may take a biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of tissue or fluid used to test for cancer cells.A biopsy is necessary in order to confirm a case of ovarian cancer.

Treatment

The most common treatment options for ovarian cancer are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The type of treatment depends on how advanced the cancer is as well as the patient's age, underlying conditions, etc.
  • Surgery: Surgery may be used to both diagnose and treat ovarian cancer by removing tissues and/or tumors.
  • Oophorectomy: Surgical removal of both ovaries.
  • Chemotherapy: Drugs are used to slow the growth of cancer and is recommended in most cases. Chemotherapy can be given directly into the abdomen and pelvis through a thin tube to treat local cancer cells. If the cancer has spread to other organs, chemotherapy can be taken by mouth or injected into the vein so the drugs enter the bloodstream.
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