Ovarian cancer frequently goes undiagnosed until it has spread to the pelvis and other areas of the abdomen. Recognizing the early symptoms of ovarian cancer can help women get the treatment they need before the disease progresses.
Cancers that originate in the cells of the ovary are classified as ovarian cancer. Tumors can occur in the epithelium, or lining cells of the ovary itself, or the fallopian tubes or lining of the abdomen. The American Cancer Society estimates that 21,980 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2014, and approximately 14,000 deaths are expected to be caused by ovarian cancer in that same year.
The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance says women need to know ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers. That's because the earliest symptoms are frequently subtle and can be confused with other conditions. If ovarian cancer is detected before it has spread, there is a 90 percent survival rate. However, only 15 percent of ovarian cancer cases in the United States are diagnosed early.
Some of the earliest symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
* pelvic and abdominal pain
* feeling full quickly when eating
* urinary urgency or frequency
* back pain
* menstrual irregularities
* pain with intercourse
Certain risk factors can increase a woman's chances of developing ovarian cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, women between the ages 50 and 60; women who have inherited genetic mutations, including the genes known to increase risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 and BRCA2); women whose first menstruation was early; women who have undergone hormone replacement therapy; women who smoke; or women who have used of an intrauterine device are at greater risk of developing ovarian cancer.
No specific test exists to detect ovarian cancer. A pap test will screen for cervical cancer, but such a test is ineffective at detecting ovarian cancer. A doctor will conduct a pelvic examination and feel the uterus and ovaries. Imaging tests, such as ultrasound and CT scans, can help determine if there are abnormalities in the ovaries. A blood test, which will detect the protein CA 125, can help to determine if ovarian cancer is present. If cancer is suspected, a sample of tissue and abdominal fluid will be used to confirm ovarian cancer.
There are four stages of ovarian cancer. Stage I means cancer has been found in one or both of the ovaries. Stage II means cancer has spread to other parts of the pelvis. In Stage III, ovarian cancer has spread to the abdomen. Stage IV cancer is found outside of the abdomen.
Treatment of ovarian cancer typically involves the surgical removal of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and nearby lymph nodes. In addition, doctors may remove a fold of fatty abdominal tissues called the omentum, where ovarian cancer often spreads. Afterward, chemotherapy is frequently used to kill remaining cancer cells.
Ovarian cancer is a serious condition that is not often diagnosed until it has spread. Women can be on the lookout for subtle clues that can indicate ovarian cancer and then alert their doctors immediately upon detection of such symptoms.