September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know the estimated number of women that will develop ovarian cancer is 1 out of 78? The earlier ovarian cancer is found and treated, the chances of survival increase. With that being said we would like to cover some information on the topic and continue to bring awareness to what having ovarian cancer can look like.
Ovaries are part of the female anatomy. They are small, almond-shaped organs located on either side of the uterus. Ovaries store eggs, known as germ cells, and produce estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer is when malignant (cancerous) cells develop in, near, or on the outer layer of one or both ovaries.
There are different types of ovarian cancer. Generally, healthy cells in your body divide and form new cells to repair injuries and replace old or dying cells. Cancer cells are different because they are known to:
- Grow uncontrollably, dividing into new abnormal cells
- Outlive normal cells
- Lead to the growth of a tumor, which can put pressure on other organs
- Can spread, or metastasize to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system
The type of cancer is determined by where it started in the body. If cancer cells are first formed in the ovaries and spread to other organs in the body it will be diagnosed and treated as ovarian cancer.
Due to the general nature of ovarian cancer, it can represent differently from case to case. Making it impossible to provide a general prognosis. Each individual’s outcome will depend on many factors, such as the stage and type of ovarian cancer, age, and overall health.
American Cancer Society estimates for ovarian cancer in the United States for 2021 are:
- About 21,410 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
- About 13,770 women will die from ovarian cancer.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer sometimes aren’t noticeable until the cancer has reached an advanced stage. Even then, they can be hard to recognize because they are symptoms that can easily be attributed to other, noncancerous causes. Some examples of these symptoms include:
- Abdominal bloating or swelling
- Back or pelvic pain
- Menstrual cycle changes
- Unexplained weight loss
- Frequent urination
- Changes in bowels, such as constipation
- Feeling full very quickly after eating
Experiencing one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily indicate ovarian cancer, but it is always a good idea to consult with your doctor.
Risk Factors For Ovarian Cancer Can Include:
- A personal history of breast cancer
- Being obese
- Having a first-degree relative (a mother, daughter, or sister) with ovarian cancer
- Taking estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause
Generally, in order to diagnose ovarian cancer, a physician will typically perform a pelvic exam and order imaging tests, such as a transvaginal ultrasound or CT scan, of the patient’s abdomen and pelvis. Also, a blood test will help to detect protein CA-125, which is normally present on the surface of ovarian cancer cells. If any of these tests suggest cancer may be present, a biopsy will be performed to obtain tissue samples so that a pathologist can make a conclusive diagnosis.
Stages of ovarian cancer
During the diagnostic process, ovarian cancer is staged by evaluating aspects of the tumor such as its size, the extent of its spread, and whether lymph nodes have been affected. Identifying the stage is especially helpful in developing an effective treatment plan.
At stage 1, ovarian cancer is generally confined to one or both ovaries. This stage can be broken down into sub-stages: 1A (the cancer is in just one ovary), 1B (the cancer is in both ovaries), or 1C (the cancer is present on the outer surface of the ovary/ovaries, the tumor has ruptured or cancer cells have entered the abdominal fluid).
At stage 2, the cancer has spread within the pelvic region. If cancer has spread to the uterus and/or the fallopian tubes, it is classified as stage 2A; if the cancer has reached other organs in the pelvic region, it is classified as stage 2B. When the cancer is present on the outer surface of the ovary/ovaries, the tumor has ruptured or cancer cells have entered the abdominal fluid, it is classified as stage 2C.
At stage 3, ovarian cancer can spread beyond the pelvic region. Stages 3A and 3B indicate cancer has spread to abdominal surfaces (at 3B, a larger amount of cancer is present). At stage 3C, cancer may have reached the lymph nodes.
Stage 4 ovarian cancer has spread away from the pelvic region to distant organs.
Treatment Options For Ovarian Cancer?
Each patient should receive an individualized treatment plan that is tailored to her unique preferences and needs. Treatment may include any variation of the below options.
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Hormone therapy
Talk with your healthcare provider about any concerns you may have. If you or someone you know is dealing with ovarian cancer – it may be a good idea to find a support group or program that helps to empower you or them to get through this phase of life. OB-GYN Women’s Centre is committed to the care and treatment of every woman.