What You Need To Know About Ovarian Cancer

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Ovarian cancer is regarded as any cancerous growth which occurs in the ovary. Most ovarian cancers begin in the outer lining of the ovary, but research has shown that many of these cancers also originate in the fallopian tubes.

According to the American Cancer Society, it is the eighth most common cancer among women in the US, with the death rate outstripping other gynaecological cancers such as uterine and cervical.

It is estimated that out of about 22,000 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer  annually in the US, around 14,000 of them will die. This means that less than 50% will survive the five year mark. However, according to the International Cancer Institute, early diagnosis, before the tumour has spread, increases the five year survival rate up to 94%.

Why is there a delay in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer?

It is a sad fact that in the early stages, ovarian cancer usually has very few symptoms, and in many cases, no distinctive symptoms at all. What symptoms may be present, are often confused with other gynaecological conditions such as PMS, irritable bowel syndrome, or a mild bladder problem. Here are other possible early symptoms which you should have checked out:

  • Pain in the pelvis or on the lower side of the body.
  • Back pain, and pain in the lower part of the stomach.
  • Unusual chronic indigestion and heartburn.
  • Frequent, urgent need to urinate.
  • Pain during sexual intercourse.
  • Tiredness, dramatic weight loss, and loss of appetite.

These symptoms may also relate to other disorders, and does not necessarily mean that ovarian cancer is present. The main difference between ovarian cancer symptoms and those of other problems is that the symptoms do not go away with treatment and gradually get worse.

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How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

Research has shown that there are basically 3 methods which are currently used to establish whether ovarian cancer may be present, and could possibly lead an early diagnosis.

These are an internal pelvic exam, a transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) and the CA-125 blood test.

  • During a pelvic examination, the doctor will feel the ovaries and the uterus for size and shape. The pelvic examination is always a good idea because it may pick up other cancers at an early stage, but unfortunately most early ovarian cancers may be difficult to feel. However, investigating other possible reproductive cancers may also help to diagnose early ovarian cancer.
  • TVUS is an ultrasound process that involves inserting an ultrasound wand into the vagina and using sound waves to look at the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. This examination can find a tumour in the ovary, but cannot actually identify whether it is cancerous or not.
  • The CA-125 blood test is one of the tumour markers used to detect cancer in the body, and to monitor the progress of cancer treatment. In many women with ovarian cancer, the CA-125 levels are high, and is a useful tumour marker to monitor the success of treatment in those known to have ovarian cancer. If the treatment is working, the level of CA-125 usually decreases.

Unfortunately, this method of screening for ovarian cancer is not always full-proof, as there are other conditions which may also cause high levels of CA-125. Although the tumour marker CA-125 blood test can be effective, it would appear that the pelvic examination, or the transvaginal ultrasound, may be better options to diagnose suspected ovarian cancer.

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Ongoing research

Tumour marker blood tests are used to detect the possible presence of cancer in various parts of the body.

Those that have proved specifically effective are the CA15-3 test for breast cancer, and the CA19-9 test for gastro-intestinal cancers. The CA-125 test is more useful for monitoring the progression of some cancers including ovarian cancer. However, recent research has revealed that scientists are conducting experiments in an attempt to find a tumour marker which will relate better to early detection of ovarian cancer.

Studies have shown that because ovarian cancer is more likely to start in the cells covering the tips of the fallopian tubes than in the outer covering of the ovary, a tumour marker which could identify unusual activity in these tubal cells, would be of enormous benefit. The key for women with ovarian cancer to survive at least 5 years is undoubtedly early detection and treatment.


Good news

The good news is that if markers are found which relate to the tubal cells, then blood tests, tissue samples, and pap smears, will greatly increase the chances of early diagnosis of ovarian cancer. With regard to pap smears, at this moment, they do not test for or identify, ovarian cancer.

Recent studies have also shown that in the past, surgeons performing hysterectomies have tended to leave healthy ovaries as well as fallopian tubes intact. Thanks to research, healthy ovaries still remain untouched, but many surgeons now remove the fallopian tubes as a means of lowering the risk of ovarian cancer.


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The lives of so many women can be saved with early detection of ovarian cancer before it has spread into other areas of the body. Protect yourself by not taking for granted any symptoms which might appear and assuming they are caused by menopause, hormones, or even IBS. Visit the doctor for anything unusual which persists and doesn’t go away!