Ovarian Cancer: Be in the Know
When it comes to cancers for women, awareness falls heavily on breast cancer. The silent malignancy of ovarian cancer and its teal ribbon of awareness are often overlooked. However, according to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer, while it accounts for only three percent of cancers in women, is the most deadly of all female reproductive cancers and will kill an estimated 14,270 women in 2014.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Ovarian cancer is one of the most challenging cancers to catch early, as the symptoms do not usually become prominent until the disease has advanced significantly. Dr. Lin Soe, MD, medical oncologist and hematologist at Marshall Hematology and Oncology in Cameron Park, explains, “Some symptoms are non-specific like fatigue, frequency of urination and pressure sensation in the pelvis or constipation. When the cancer starts progressing more, the obvious symptoms appear.” Indications of more advanced ovarian cancer include abdominal distention, abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea or loss of appetite, and even leg swelling or shortness of breath.
As with many cancers, there is no direct causation that has been found, no one specific source causing the disease. There are, however, a few correlative risk factors that have been identified. Caucasian women over 50 years old are at a higher risk, as are women who have suffered from infertility, used ovulation-inducing drugs and undergone hormone replacement therapy. Dr. Soe also notes that hereditary cancer syndromes, such as Lynch II syndrome, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, have been linked to the occurrence of ovarian cancer.
Not only is there is no direct cause, there is also little that can be done in the way of prevention. It is important to stay alert and pay attention to your body, especially if you have a family history of ovarian cancer. “For early detection, women in high-risk groups should have a very low threshold of suspicion, and for any persistent symptoms, [they] should be examined by their physician,” says Dr. Soe, “including a pelvic exam, pelvic ultrasound and, if highly suspicious, CT scan of the pelvis.”
Ovarian cancer is typically treated with a combination of two or more approaches, including chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and various forms of hormonal treatment. A patient’s treatment needs are based on a variety of factors unique to each individual. According to Dr. Soe, “Success of the treatment depends on the stage of the disease at the time of the diagnosis.” If discovered at Stage 1, in which the disease is limited only to the ovaries, the success rate tops 90 percent. Even Stage 2, where the cancer has spread into the pelvis, is still considered highly curable. Yet, those later stages present a much more grim statistic, with Stage 4 (the disease having spread to organs far from the abdomen) diagnoses being considered incurable. This early success rate is why it’s imperative that women be proactive and see a doctor if they have the slightest suspicion that their health may be at risk.