What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a disease in which malignant or cancerous cells are found in the ovaries. An ovary is one of two small, almond-shaped organs located on each side of the uterus that store eggs or germ cells and produce female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Cancer develops when cells in a part of the body (in this case the ovary) begin to grow out of control. Although there are many kinds of cancer, they all start because of out-of-control growth of abnormal cells.1
Every year nearly 250,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer; 150,000 women die yearly from the disease. In women age 35-74 ovarian cancer is the 5th leading cause of cancer deaths. Over their lifetime, one in 75 women will develop ovarian cancer. In Arkansas, approximately 200 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year with 150 deaths occurring yearly.2
- All women are at risk
- 1 in 75 women will develop Ovarian Cancer
- Symptoms exist – they can be vague but generally increase
- 5th leading cause of death in women
- Early detection increases survival rate
- A Pap Test DOES NOT detect Ovarian Cancer3
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
- Upset stomach or heartburn
- Back pain
- Pain during intercourse
- Menstrual Changes4
- Genetic predisposition
- Personal or family history of breast, ovarian or colon cancer
- Early age onset of menstrual periods or late age of menopause
- Increasing age
- Undesired infertility
- Personal or family history of inherited genetic abnormality BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation3
Testing for Ovarian Cancer
What Kinds of Screenings Can be Performed to Determine if Ovarian Cancer Exists?
Ovarian Cancer screenings can involve a blood test, an ultrasound, or both. The blood test used most often is called CA 125.
CA 125 Blood Tests: CA 125 is a protein in the blood that goes up when a woman has ovarian cancer. The trouble is, this protein also goes up when a woman has other health problems that do not involve cancer. The test can help find ovarian cancer, but is not 100% accurate.
Pelvic Ultrasound: During a pelvic ultrasound, an ultrasound technician will insert a small device similar to a tampon into your vagina. The device uses sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. Ultrasounds can find abnormal growths on the ovaries, but they cannot tell whether the growths are caused by cancer. Sometimes less serious health problems, or even normal changes that happen during a woman’s menstrual cycle, can cause these “growths”.
Who Should be Screened for Ovarian Cancer?
If you have a family history of ovarian cancer or have genes that put you at risk, discuss the pros and cons of screening with your doctor to determine if screening is right for you. The main benefit of screening is that it might help doctors find cancer early, when it should be easier to treat. With Ovarian Cancer, the earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis.
What if My Screening Test is Abnormal?
If your test is abnormal, don’t panic. Many women who have abnormal results turn out NOT to have ovarian cancer. You will need more tests to find out whether or not you actually have cancer.
Most women with abnormal results find out they do not have cancer after further testing. But some women with abnormal results (in 1 study, about 1 in 3 women) need surgery to know for sure if they have cancer. This surgery is usually done through small incisions, using a tool called a “laparoscope.”
Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions.