Ovarian Cancer Ovarian cancer is a cancer which forms in the ovaries of a female reproductive organs. Most times it is undetected until small tumors line the abdominal cavity and the cancer cells invade vital organs. This cancer, which is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among American women, has recently shown signs that it may have more success with new treatments for all stages of the disease. Symptoms Ovarian cancer has often times been known as the “silent killer” of American women, but scientists have recently uncovered startling facts: more than 90% of ovarian cancer patients had symptoms of the disease long before it was officially diagnosed. As well as this amazing fact, one in 17 women who live to be 80 will develop ovarian cancer. Some symptoms of this disease include abdominal swelling; digestive disturbances, which include gas, bloating, chronic stomach pains, or indigestion; pelvic pressure; a persistent need to urinate; unexplained weight loss or pain in the pelvis, lower back, or legs.
As it can be seen, these symptoms can pertain to many other illnesses, therefore it is hard for a doctor to know ovarian cancer exists. Most times, when these symptoms do not respond to the usual treatments, doctors are instructed to consider ovarian cancer as the problem. Diagnosis, Surgery, and Therapy In order to make a diagnosis, first the doctor requires a thorough medical history of the patient and a pelvic exam, which allows the doctor to feel for abnormalities in the ovaries. If an abnormality is suspected, an ultrasound is usually performed. Usually, for an ultrasound, a probe is placed in the Vagina to gain a clear image of the ovaries.
The ultrasound can determine the health of the ovaries and distinguish any more possibilities of the existence of ovarian cancer. To have a better idea of whats wrong with the patient, the doctor obtains a blood test on the patient to measure CA-125. CA-125 is a protein produced by ovarian cancer cells. In advanced ovarian cancer, the protein is elevated in more than 80% of women. In those patients with early-stage cancers, the protein is elevated in more than 50%. Unfortunately, this tool is not perfect.
Sometimes these protein levels can also be higher during ovulation or endometriosis. The only certain way to find out if ovarian cancer lives in the patient is to have surgery. During the surgery, the ovaries and other organs of the abdomen are thoroughly inspected. If cancer is strongly suspected, the incision for the surgery is made through the abdomen. The first stage of ovarian cancer is referred to as stage I.
This stage is when the cancer is only located in the ovaries. Stage II is classified to the ovaries and other pelvic organs. Stage III is cancer in all the abdominal organs except for the liver, and stage IV includes the liver and other vital organs. Advanced cases are considered the stages from II to IV. Sometimes in the early stages of ovarian cancer, a woman can still conceive, because only one ovary will be removed.
If the stage of cancer is very advanced, both ovaries will be removed, as well as the uterus, fallopian tubes, and the momentum. Chemotherapy usually makes CA-125 return to their normal levels. If it remains high or rises during therapy, the cancer may have reoccurred. Some studies suggest that if the tumors return within six months of therapy, the cancer cells could be resistant to drug treatment. A woman visits her physician every few months after her surgery and treatment to keep an eye on her CA-125 levels.
Several organizations are trying to develop cancer vaccines targeted at certain cancer-causing proteins, like CA-125. By killing these proteins, they have less of a chance of causing the cancer. Side Effects Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells but also damage some normal cells. Temporary side effects might include nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, loss of hair, mouth and vaginal sores, and changes in the menstrual cycle. Because chemotherapy can damage the blood-producing cells of the bone marrow, patients may have low blood cell counts.
This can result in an increased chance of infection, bleeding or bruising after minor cuts or injuries, and fatigue. Potentially permanent side effects include premature menopause and infertility. After radiation therapy, the skin in the treated area may look and feel sunburned. This gradually fades, returning to a normal appearance in six to 12 months. Many women also complain of tiredness, nausea, or diarrhea.
Factors and Risk Reductions Age can have an effect on a womans chances of getting ovarian cancer. Most cases are very uncommon before the age of 40. Postmenopausal women are usually the women who get ovarian cancer. The possibilities of getting ovarian cancer increase dramatically after a woman turns 50 and steadily increases until the woman turns 80. If a woman has never been pregnant, her chances of ovarian cancer increase.
The more pregnancies a woman has, the lower her risk. Breast-feeding for six months, which is also during the time that a woman does not ovulate, has also been shown to reduce the womans risk. What strikes most people is the reduction in risk of ovarian cancer when a woman uses an oral contraceptive. These are thought to work mainly because they prevent ovulation. A woman who uses the pill for five years more than halves her risk of getting ovarian cancer, and is protected for up to 30 years after using the contraceptive frequently, but variances in estrogen in the pill did not increase or decrease protection. Some surgeries even reduce the risk of cancer in the ovaries.
A woman who has a tubule legation, which is the tying of the fallopian tubes to prevent pregnancy, lowers her risk of ovarian cancer by up to 70%. She can also lower her chances of getting this cancer by having a hysterectomy, which is the complete removal of the uterus. Some women even decide to remove both ovaries, which can increase the chance of osteoporosis, because the ovaries produce estrogen, which fights osteoporosis. Removing both ovaries also increases the risk of a heart attack at an early age. Another point in this is that removing both ovaries does not totally protect the woman from developing ovarian cancer. About 10% of women who have ovarian cancer have it without ovaries present in the body. Ovarian cancer is indeed the silent killer, but precautions can be taken to lower a womans risk of developing this cancer.
Therapy is in the early stages, but more methods are being thought of more and more frequently. It is definitely a wonderful time to be living in, where less people die because of diseases such as this. Bibliography Henderson, C.W. “Low-Dose Oral Contraceptives are as Protective as Older, High-Dose Pills.” Womens Health Weekly 3 Aug. 2000: 2.
Henderson, C.W. “Genetic Approach Targets Breast and Ovarian Cancers.” Womens Health Weekly 29 June 2000: 20-2. McGuire, William Patrick. “Ovarian Cancer: Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention with William Patrick McGuire.” MSN: Health. 6 June 2000. “Progress Report on Ovarian Cancer.” Harvard Womens Health Watch May 2000: 2-3. “Types of Treatment.” Ovary Cancer Resource Center. 11 November 2000.