Ovarian cancer is a cancer of the ovaries – the organs that produce eggs. Of the cancers found among women, it accounts for about 3%. However, it accounts for 1/5 of cancer deaths among women. It is possible for women of any age to develop this form of cancer but it is most commonly found in women over the age of 50. Typically the women with this type of cancer present non-specific symptoms in the pelvic and/or abdominal regions of the body.
Risk factor include obesity, having hormone treatments after menopause and not giving birth. However, many women who have developed ovarian cancer have not presented these factors. Another factor in determining risk is a family history of ovarian cancer. Second to this is the presence of certain gene mutations collectively called hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome and is associated with a 23 to 54 percent lifetime risk of developing such cancers.
As alluded to above, diagnosis can be difficult as typically women with it have non-specific symptoms. The most common across age groups, is some sort of abdominal pain. This pain can occur jointly with other abdominal irregularities as well. Studies have found that women that did have the cancer had the abdominal pain for 6 – 12 months before a diagnosis of cancer was given. This emphasizes the need to consider it when investigating such symptoms.
Because the typical symptoms tend to be non-specific, an index has been developed. If a woman demonstrates one of 6 symptoms – pelvic pain, abdominal pain, bloating, difficulty eating, increased abdominal size, early satiety when eating – for greater than twelve days per month for less than one year, the person has a 56.7% vulnerability to early stage ovarian cancer and a 79.5% vulnerability to late stage cancer
It is difficult to lower one’s risk profile. Currently there are not lifestyle changes or medicines that one can take to prevent it. Birth control pills and a low fat diet may lower the risk as does having children. If one has the gene mutation that has been linked to ovarian cancer, one may want to consider having the ovaries removed.
Treatment is dependent on the stage of the cancer and whether or not the person still wants to have children. Typical treatments involve a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Radiation is most often used after chemotherapy for localized and persistent disease. Radiation is also used a palliative care. One such surgery used is a hysterectomy. This involves the partial or total removal of the uterus and surrounding tissue to eliminate the cancerous cells. Chemotherapy involves using toxic chemicals to destroy the cancerous cells.
If one is suspects that they may be at risk for ovarian cancer it is extremely important that they consult their doctor, especially as one can have the symptoms of the cancer long before a diagnosis is given. By going early one increases the chances of early detection and the chance of treating the cancer before it is far advanced.
If you have questions about ovarian cancer, think that you may have early set symptoms or are simply looking to find more information about women’s health and wellness, contact the Woodlands OBGYN Associates today!