Ovarian Cancer Is Not Silent
Cancerous Mass on the Left Ovary
Facts About Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of one of the ovaries, which are the reproductive glands of women. This is where the ova or eggs are formed, and ovarian cancer is thought to be the silent killer for many years.
Ovarian cancers tend to be either ovarian epithelial carcinomas (which are cancers that begin on the surface of the ovary) or malignant germ cell tumors (which are cancers that begin in the egg cells).
In 2017, there will be 22,440 new cases resulting in an estimated 14,080deaths, which accounts for approximately 2.3% of all cancers in women. Approximately 45.5 percent of patients diagnosed will survive for five years. It is the ninth most common cancer among women but the fifth leading cancer-related death among women, and the deadliest gynecological cancer. Caucasian women have slightly higher death rates than minority women.
Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors and Testing
The one risk factor you cannot change, of course, is your genetic makeup. If you have a history in your family of breast, ovarian or colon cancer you are at higher risk.
The more relatives you have with these types of cancers, the greater your risk, and you may want to consider genetic counseling.
There are two types of blood test that can be done to determine if you have a higher risk of getting ovarian, breast, prostate or other types of cancer.
- BRCA1 This test looks for certain mutations found in a gene on chromosome 17, which normally helps to suppress cell growth. These mutations carry a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian, prostate and other cancers as well.
- BRCA2 A person that inherits certain mutations on this gene found on chromosome 13, which normally also suppresses cell growth has a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian, prostate and other types of cancers also.
Normally these cells ensure the stability of the cell's genetic material preventing cell growth, but the mutations of these genes is a sign for the development of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. A woman's lifetime risk, if she inherits these mutations, is markedly increased before menopause, and often multiple family members may have been diagnosed with these cancers.
The BRCA1 mutation also increases the risk of a woman developing cervical, uterine, pancreatic and colon cancer. The BRCA2 mutation may increase the risk of pancreatic, stomach, gallbladder and bile duct carcinomas, plus melanoma.
Men with the BRCA1 mutations have an increased risk of breast cancer and possibly pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer and early onset prostate cancer, however, these cancers appear to be more strongly associated with the BRCA2 mutations.
BRCA testing may be expensive but many insurance companies will pay for this testing when you have a strong family history, so it's advisable to check with your insurance company first before having a testing.
Personal Example of Genetics
A friend of mine who shares my love for genealogy found a malignant lump in one breast, and because she has a strong history of cancer in her family history she had a double mastectomy. She also had genetic counseling and her BRCA tests were positive.
As she worked on the genealogy she found that many ancestors had died of cancer. She has a large family with numerous cousins She started informing the relatives about the BRAC test and two women were diagnosed with breast cancer and one man with colon cancer and they had positive BRCA tests. They had been asymptomatic up until this test. Genetic counseling is worthwhile if you have a strong family history of cancer.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
The average age for diagnosis is 63, and the average age for death from ovarian cancer is 71. However, 5% of women are diagnosed under the age of 34. Ovarian cancer was considered the silent disease because it was thought that there were no noticeable symptoms and quite often it is not caught in the early stages.
Fewer than 20% of ovarian cancers are caught in stage I, but that is when they are the most treatable with the highest survival rate (70 to 90% survive). Most women have progressed to stage III before they are diagnosed.
It is most imperative that women pay attention to the signs of ovarian cancer to save their lives. Women often notice several symptoms that they either ignore or write off as having some other cause
- One of the most common symptoms is abdominal bloating and increased abdominal girth.
- Frequent or urgent urination is also quite common.
- Pelvic or abdominal pain (or pain with intercourse), which is also a symptom not to be ignored.
- Many women have either difficulty eating or a sense of feeling full very quickly.
If you notice severe bloating in your abdomen and an increase in your abdominal girth, which occurs almost every day and lasts for more than 2 to 3 weeks, it is important to get to your doctor for medical testing. Pelvic pain lasting for 2 to 3 weeks is also a concern but does not always occur with ovarian cancer. The appetite changes happen when the ovaries release chemicals that slow down the gut, thus increasing the time it takes for food to work its way through your body.
If you have a frequency of urination it may be a symptom of a UTI, which you would want to check out first with your doctor. If it lasts beyond medical treatment for 2 to 3 weeks than other reasons for the urgent urination need to be explored.
Beginning testing for ovarian cancer includes:
- Transvaginal ultrasound.
- Rectovaginal exam, which allows the physician to feel the ovaries more effectively.
- C125 blood test assay, which measures a protein or substance that ovarian cancer excretes into the blood as a tumor marker. However, it is not elevated for all women who have ovarian cancer.
- Lowers GI's series or barium enema.
- Ultrasounds are not recommended for routine testing unless you are at high risk.
Ovarian Cancer Symptoms
Many women have an ovarian cyst, which may be found inside or outside of an ovary. Cysts have fluid and also some solid tissue as well but are usually benign. They leave over time, but occasionally a doctor will find in the cyst gets larger. A test will be done to make sure that it's not cancerous.
In Denmark, 910,000 women underwent a nationwide study to correlate developing ovarian cancer with women who had used hormone therapy through menopause. The findings confirmed previous studies which indicate ovarian cancer should be considered when doctors are prescribing hormones.
In 2002, the Women's Health Initiative reported that a combination hormone therapy of estrogen plus progestin increased the risk of breast cancer, but estrogen alone increases the risk of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian Cancer Prevention
There are no FDA approved ways to prevent ovarian cancer.
There are some doctors that state certain foods will help prevent ovarian cancer, and they include endive, which is used in salads and is thought to reduce your risk of cancer by 75% if you eat a half cup two times a week.
There was a study done in Europe that showed eating Sea Bass, which contains omega-3 fatty acids helps reduce your risk by 30% if you eat 6 ounces 2 to 3 times per week. Onions contain at least four different cancer fighters according to studies done in Italy and Switzerland and can reduce ovarian cancer by 73% if red onions are used.
Other cancer fighters include garlic, capers, olives, lemon juice, which contains a cancer fighter called almondine, and tomatoes. Obviously eating healthy, not smoking, exercising and getting enough rest will reduce your risk of getting any type of cancer.
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Ovarian Cancer Treatment
In the advanced stages of ovarian cancer, the problem is cancer can attack, shed or break off and travel to other organs. An ovarian tumor may grow and invade an organ next to the ovary, such as the fallopian tubes or uterus.
Cancer cells can also shed or break off from the main tumor into the abdomen and form new tumors on the outside of other organs and tissues. They are sometimes called seeds or implants. Furthermore, cancer cells can multiply through the lymphatic system or in blood, which seeps into the abdomen or chest. The cells can affect other organs such as the liver or lungs.
I have a dear friend who has stage IV ovarian cancer and is undergoing another round of chemotherapy following years of treatment and periods of remission. This time she has three new tumors, and one of them is quite large, so they are using radiation and this new chemotherapy to hopefully save her life.
She told me that she thought something was wrong well before she was diagnosed as she had the symptoms of bloating and a change in her appetite, but she never dreamed it was cancer. By the time she was diagnosed she was already in stage III, however, persistent treatment has kept her alive for several years. I pray for this precious friend daily as she has fought a long, hard battle that I hope she will win.
Of course, the goal of treating ovarian cancer is to remove or kill as much of cancer as possible, which may involve simple or radical surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or any combination of the above. Most commonly the surgeon will remove the ovaries, the uterus, and the fallopian tubes, then chemotherapy will begin.
They have improved chemotherapy drugs today with fewer side effects, and the chemotherapy will be chosen according to your grade and type of ovarian cancer. If you also require radiation it will target the cancer cells much more effectively than the radiation of the past and not damage as many healthy cells.
I cannot emphasize too much how important it is to pay attention to any physical symptoms in your body that are suddenly different even over just a two-week period of time. It is better to go see your physician and be told you're cancer free and take a risk that nothing is really wrong.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.