The statistics for ovarian cancer in women is staggering. The American Cancer Society estimates 21,750 women will be diagnosed and 13,940 women will die from ovarian cancer in 2020. With COVID-19 lurking, these numbers may be even higher as this pre-existing condition may complicate someone who may contract the virus. Ovarian cancer ranks 5th in cancer deaths among women which accounts for more than any other female reproductive system cancers. 1 in 78 women will likely get ovarian cancer in their lifetime. These numbers do not include potential ovarian tumors.
September is ovarian cancer month and is symbolized with a teal ribbon. Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the ovaries. There are 2 ovaries in the female reproductive system. This type of cancer will often go undetected until it spreads to the pelvis and abdomen. If this type of cancer spreads before it has been diagnosed, it is very difficult to treat and remove. Chemotherapy and/or surgery is generally used for treatment and/or removal.
What is ovarian cancer?
It is when abnormal cells in the ovary begin to multiply out of control and form a tumor.
Types of Ovarian Cancer
- Epithelial tumors form in the layer of tissue on the outside of the ovaries. About 90 percent of ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors
- Stromal tumors grow in the hormone-producing cells. Seven percent of ovarian cancers are stromal tumors.
- Germ cell tumors develop in the egg-producing cells. Germ cell tumors are rare.
The signs & symptoms of ovarian cancer:
- Abdominal bloating or swelling
- Quickly feeling full when eating
- Weight loss
- Discomfort in the pelvis area
- Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
- A frequent need to urinate
- Back pain
- Abdominal pain
- Upset stomach
- Pain during sex
- Changes in a woman’s period, such as heavier bleeding than normal
- The CA 125 cancer antigen blood test is available but “not recommended for women with an average risk of ovarian cancer”, according to the Mayo Clinic. According to the link, elevated CA 125 levels include other prognosis such as:
- Liver cirrhosis
- Normal menstruation
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Uterine fibroids
2. The test used most often is TVUS (transvaginal ultrasound) which uses sound waves to look at the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. A wand is inserted into the vagina and will help find a mass or tumor in the ovary. This test cannot detect if a tumor is cancer or benign.
3. Abdominal and pelvic CT scan or MRI. The CT scan is faster and will provide more information than an X-ray. A CT scan moves around the body and takes pictures at different angles, whereas an X-ray takes it from one angle. Depending on what the doctor orders, you may have to drink an oral contrast such as barium or they may inject a dye into an IV to get better results.
4. If you are allergic to barium, iodine or any other contrast dye, your doctor may order an MRI.
Is Ovarian Cancer hereditary?
Yes, in a small percentage of ovarian cancer cases, the cause is from a gene mutation inherited by the parents. The genes known to increase the risk are called breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2). These same genes increase the risk of breast cancer. Genetic tests detect mutations associated with these inherited genes.
Most ovarian cancers are not inherited but are acquired during a woman’s life. It is unknown what causes these uninherited mutations.