Cancer of the ovaries, the reproductive organs responsible for producing eggs and female hormones, is an insidious disease that can often strike without warning. Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect, as the symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague and subtle, similar to those in other non cancer conditions affecting women. There is no effective screening test for ovarian cancer but tests exist that can identify women who are at higher risk for the disease.
Only 20 percent of cases are caught before the cancer has spread beyond the ovary to the pelvic region. When ovarian cancer is detected and treated early on, the five-year survival rate is greater than 92 percent. Sadly, though, most patients are diagnosed at advanced stages, and less than 50 percent of women survive longer than five years after diagnosis. The good news is that today 50 percent of women are surviving longer than five years after diagnosis–a marked improvement in the survival rate from 30 or more years ago when it was 10 percent to 20 percent.
Still, ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the United States and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among American women. The National Cancer Institute estimates 22,440 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States in 2017 and about 14,080 women will die from the disease.
Until we have better early detection tools, all women should be educated about ovarian cancer so they can get an early diagnosis and successful treatment. Listen to your body. Do not ignore symptoms. Be your own advocate with your physician.
The Queen of Hearts Foundation fundraising efforts help researchers:
- To find better tests that can diagnose ovarian cancer earlier and more precisely
- To understand what causes ovarian cancer
- To develop improved treatments
Do You Know the Facts? Test Your Knowledge & Tell a Friend
1. Ovarian cancer symptoms include:
- A. Pelvic and/or abdominal pain, bloating, or a feeling of fullness
- B. Severe headaches
- C. Shooting pains in the arms and legs
- D. Extreme sweating
2. Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:
- A. Inherited gene mutations
- B. Under the age of 40 with a personal or family history of breast cancer
- C. All of the above
3. Both breast and ovarian cancer can be caused by gene mutations.
- A. True
- B. False
4. A prophylactic oophorectomy is:
- A. The surgical removal of the cervix
- B. Removal of both ovaries and tubes for prevention of ovarian/tubal cancer in extremely high-risk patients
- C. A diagnostic and therapeutic procedure where a small amount of radiation is directed at the cancerous tissue
- D. An instrument used to view the ovaries
5. How is ovarian cancer usually treated?
- A. Cytoreductive surgery and surgical staging (removal of ovarian tumors)
- B. Chemotherapy
- C. Radiation therapy when appropriate
- D. All of the above
1. A. Abdominal bloating, pelvic and/or abdominal pain, and/or feeling of fullness are all symptoms of ovarian cancer in addition to vague but persistent and unexplained gastrointestinal complaints such as gas, nausea, and indigestion; unexplained change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea); unexplained weight gain or loss; frequency and/or urgency of urination; unusual fatigue; shortness of breath; and new and unexplained abnormal postmenopausal vaginal bleeding.
2. C. All of these factors make you at higher risk than the average woman. Several factors may increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you’re sure to develop ovarian cancer, but your risk may be higher than that of the average woman.
3. A. Both breast and ovarian cancer can be caused by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Women with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer, or a personal history for either, particularly if diagnosed before age 50, should be aware of increased risk for the other.
4. B. Prophylactic oophorecomy, or risk reducing salpingo-oophorectomy, is the removal of both ovaries and tubes for prevention of ovarian/tubal cancer in extremely high-risk patients.
5. D. All of the listed options are used to treat ovarian cancer. Treatment for recurrent ovarian cancer must be determined by a gynecologic oncologist.