The American Cancer Society estimates that around 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2016, and that around 14,000 women will die from ovarian cancer. Although the rates of diagnosis of ovarian cancer have gone down gradually over the past twenty years, ovarian cancer is ranked as the fifth highest in cancer deaths for women. Out of all the cancers that affect the female reproductive system, ovarian cancer has the highest rate of death. One in seventy-five women is will develop ovarian cancer. One in one hundred women will die from it.
Your ovaries are on either side of your uterus in your pelvis. They are your female reproductive glands. They produce eggs for reproduction. These eggs travel through your fallopian tubes and into your uterus for fertilization. This fertilization results in the development of a fetus inside of your womb. Ovaries are also the main source of estrogen and progesterone, the female hormones. Ovarian cancer occurs when the cells in your ovaries grow out of control. Ovarian cancer affects women who are 63 years old or older. Ovarian cancer is more commonly found in white women.
Ovarian cancer has no symptoms in the early stages. Later stages of the cancer are associated with symptoms, but they are usually non-specific symptoms such as loss of appetite, fatigue, and weight loss.
Since there are three main types of cells that make up your ovaries, there are three types of tumors that can develop. Most of these tumors are benign and don’t spread past your ovaries. But they can become malignant, growing excessively and spreading (or metastasizing) to other parts of your body, resulting in probable death. These are:
- Epithelial Tumors
- Germ Cell Tumors
- Stromal Tumors
The following factors are known to increase your risk of ovarian cancer:
- Alcohol Use
- Breast Cancer
- Estrogen and Hormone Therapy
- Family History with Cancer
- Fertility Drugs
- Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colon Cancer
- Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer-Causing Genes (BRCA 1 and 2)
- MUTYH-associated Polyposis
- PTEN Tumor Hamartoma Syndrome
- Talcum Powder
- Tobacco Use
Apart from the absence of the increase-of-risk factors listed above, the following factors may contribute to a lower risk of development:
- Birth Control Use
- Gynecological Surgery (Tubal Ligation)
- Reproductive History (Breastfeeding, Giving Birth Before 26)
Diagnosis & Treatment
Testing for the genetic mutation known to cause cancers of the breasts and ovaries, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, is available. You can have either a harmful BRCA 1 & 2 mutation or a harmless BRCA 1 & 2 mutation. Knowing what type of mutation you have may lead you to take pre-emptive measures against breast and ovary cancers. Some women opt for early and total prevention and have their ovaries or breasts surgically removed.
Your doctor will take your medical history and do a physical exam to look for signs. He or she will perform a pelvic exam and look for an enlarged ovary or signs of fluid in your abdomen. If ovarian cancer is suspected based on your physical exam and symptoms, your doctor will order more tests to check you out further. If your tests suggest you have ovarian cancer you will need to go to a doctor or surgeon that specializes in treating women like you. A gynecologic oncologist, or a specialist who treats cancers of the female reproductive system, will ensure you get the best kind of surgery and the most informed treatment options for your ovarian cancer.
Other tests your doctor or specialist may recommend include:
- Barium Enema X-Rays
- Blood Studies
- CT Scans (Computerized Tomography)
- MRI Scans (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
The standard treatment for ovarian cancer is surgery. Usually, your two ovaries and your other reproductive organs are removed. Young women who have small tumors in only one ovary may have only the cancerous ovary removed. Chemotherapy may prolong your survival after surgery and could even result in a cure. Most women with advanced ovarian cancer still have some cancer remaining after surgery. Whether or not your cancer will respond to follow-up treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy varies with each woman. Follow-up exams are necessary even if there is no cancer detected after your treatments. Other cancers of the breast and colon are at a greater risk of occurrence after ovarian cancer is treated or diagnosed.
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