The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 22,200 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in 2018, and of that number, 14,000 women will succumb to ovarian cancer. It is estimated that 1 out of 75 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime, and it is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women.
Debra Rundles, MSN, RN CBN, Women’s Oncology Nurse Navigator at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Medical City Arlington, shares what you should know about ovarian cancer.
Know your anatomy
The ovaries are two almond-shaped glands that sit on each side of the uterus and connect to it via the fallopian tubes. Ovaries produce eggs for reproduction and fertility as well as the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer occurs when cancer cells develop inside, near or around the ovaries.
Recognize the symptoms
Ovarian cancer is more common in women between the ages of 35-74; however, women in their 20’s have also been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is not detectable through routine exams or tests and, unfortunately, the symptoms are often vague.
It is often not until the cancer has progressed and produces symptoms that ovarian cancer is diagnosed. Common symptoms of advanced ovarian cancer include bloating in the abdomen, pelvic pain, trouble eating and/or feeling full quickly, frequent urination, tightness or fullness. Other symptoms can include fatigue, upset stomach or heartburn, back pain, pain during sex, constipation or menstrual changes. If these symptoms are new and persist daily for more than two weeks, you should speak with your doctor.
Educate yourself about screening
A physical and pelvic exam is the initial diagnostic procedure. During a pelvic exam, a doctor examines the uterus and ovaries by inserting one or two fingers into the vagina and placing his or her hand on the lower abdomen. In doing so, the doctor is inspecting the “size, shape, and position of the uterus and ovaries.”
A myriad of imaging tests may also be performed, from abdominal and pelvic CT scans to abdominal and/or transvaginal ultrasound, in which the “vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and bladder” are examined.
A CA-125 blood assay is the standard diagnostic marker for ovarian cancer, testing for the elevated levels in the blood. A normal range is 0-35, but a level higher than 35 can be indicative of ovarian cancer or other cancer, such as endometrial cancer. It can also be an indicator of non-cancer issues such as pregnancy, menstruation or pancreatitis.
Understand the diagnosis
Ovarian cancer is staged during surgery. The stages are I, II, III and IV. When ovarian cancer is diagnosed during earlier stages, the five year survival rate is 90%, according to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. However, only 15% of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed during the early stages due to the vague symptoms of ovarian cancer, and many women are diagnosed at the later stages; therefore, survival percentages are lower.
Recognize risk factors
Some women are at a higher risk for developing ovarian cancer. The most prevalent risk factors include having a family history of breast, ovarian or colon cancer. Infertility, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease and Lynch Syndrome are additional risk factors associated with ovarian cancer. When there is an inherited risk due to a family or personal history, a woman is strongly advised to get tested for the BRCA gene. Genetic abnormalities such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 can increase a woman’s risk for not only ovarian cancer but also breast cancer.
Because ovarian cancer is not detectable through routine exams or tests, it is important to educate yourself about risk factors and be aware of any changes in your body. If you believe that you are at risk for ovarian cancer or notice any subtle signs, speak with your physician immediately.
It is important to know that the information in this post, including Sarah Cannon’s recommendations for screening, is accurate as of the publishing date.