Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecological cancer in women with the highest mortality rate, mostly because it is discovered at a late stage.
Europe, especially the regions in Eastern and Northern Europe have the highest rate of women suffering from ovarian cancer. In 2012 there were 65 000 patients, so the disease became the sixth most common cancer in women in Europe. About 250,000 women develop cancer every year.
Only 50% of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer survive five years after the initial diagnosis. This is because the cancer is in advanced stage. With early detection, however, this percent can increase up to 95%.
Women can develop ovarian cancer at any age, but it is more likely to occur in women who are 50 or older. More than half of the cases are women at the age of 65 and older. Industrialized countries have the highest incidence of ovarian cancer. Women with white skin are at a slightly higher risk; African-American and Asian women are at lower risk.
The risk of developing the disease increases with the age. Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in American women and the second most common gynecological cancer. That is 4% of all cases of cancer in women. However, the death rate for ovarian cancer is higher than for any other cancer in women, because it is not early detected.
Symptoms and Signs
Usually there are no early signs of the disease. Ovarian cancer is often referred to as a silent killer, because women are either not aware of having it, or they have symptoms that are not accurately diagnosed until the disease is in an advanced stage.
The following symptoms are considered as warning signs of ovarian cancer, but there may be many other causes.
- Digestive symptoms such as gases, indigestion, constipation or a feeling of fullness after a light meal, bloating, cramps, and abdominal discomfort.
- Pelvic pressure or frequent urination
- Unexplained changes in the bowel
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Pain during intercourse
- Vaginal bleeding in post-menopausal women
The real causes of ovarian cancer remain unknown, but several factors are known to increase the chances of developing the disease. These groups of women are more likely to develop ovarian cancer:
- Women who have never been pregnant or had children
- White women, especially in Northern Europe
- Women over 50. Half of the diagnosed cases are women over 65.
- Women who have a family history of breast, ovarian, endometrial (uterus), prostate or colon cancer
- Women who had breast cancer
- Women who have a first-degree relative (mother, daughter, sister) diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
- Women with genetic mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2. (Not all women with these genetic mutations of breast cancer will develop ovarian cancer)
- So far there are no tests that can reliably show if a woman has an early-stage ovarian cancer. Some diagnostic procedures include a thorough bimanual pelvic examination, diagnosticlaparoscopy, and variousx-rayprocedures.
An ultrasound can be made through the abdomen and the lower pelvic region or with a transvaginal probe. Low GI series or barium enema involve series of X-rays to highlight the other organs. CA-125 blood test is used to determine the level of CA-125, a tumor marker.
High awareness among women and their gynecologists is more than necessary. They must be aware that regular checkups, especially in cases of bloating can detect and diagnose cancer at an early stage when it can be actually cured.
Women who are at high risk due to a family history, should do regular checkups. Although there is no strong evidence, when it comes to treating menopausal symptoms, women are advised to use the lowest dose of hormone replacement therapy in the shortest period possible.
There are various treatments. According to the specialists, women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are usually advised to do a surgery, which involves removal of the uterus, tubes, ovaries and omentum. If the cancer has metastasized, the surgery may include removing of other tissues in the abdomen and pelvis, as well as parts of the colon.
Specialists explain that chemotherapy is usually given after surgery to stop the recurrence of cancer, but it is also given to reduce the cancer before surgery, especially in advanced cases. It is also used if the disease has reoccurred.
Most regimes are based on platinum agents, and there are many target-therapies. In many countries specialists practice antibodies that hinderthe blood flow to the cancer. Chemotherapy can be inserted directly into the abdomen. Many studies have confirmed the positive effect of this hyperthermic peritoneal chemotherapy during surgery.
Radiotherapy is rarely used for ovarian cancer, but it can be applied in the late stage of the disease in order to reduce pain and bleeding.