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Ovarian cancer is a disease that often doesn’t become diagnosed until it has reached a late stage that is very difficult to treat. This is because no adequate screening tests exist to identify the disease. However, there are many facts surrounding ovarian cancer that all women should be aware of because understanding them can lead to an early diagnosis.
Who Gets Ovarian Cancer and Why?
According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, it’s estimated that nearly 1 woman in 75 may develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime. The disease does not discriminate; it can strike women of any age, ethnicity, level of physical health, and sexual orientation.
The answer to why women get the disease is not a simple one. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are many and varied and, because a large number of the symptoms are not deemed acute by the patient, may simply be dismissed as temporary discomfort.
Another reason women get ovarian cancer is due to genetics. Women who already have ovarian cancer can choose to undergo testing for changes in the BRCA1 and BRAC2 genes. Changes in either or both of these genes can require chronic disease management in both males as well as females, making this testing particularly important for those considering having children.
It is also suspected that women who started menstruating at an early age and who ended their periods at a late age are at higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
How Is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of ovarian cancer typically follows the communication of signs or symptoms by the patient. These signs and symptoms can include:
Following the communication of symptoms, a medical doctor’s next step will be to conduct a physical exam. Lab tests and imaging may follow.
Tools for Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis
Medical doctors have several tools at their disposal to diagnose ovarian cancer. These include ultrasound and CT scans, which are the most common in a diagnosis of the disease. This technology provides medical doctors with images that can reveal pelvic and abdominal masses, as well as kidney and abdominal obstructions, fluid, and masses in the pelvic and abdominal areas.
Blood work can also be helpful in diagnosing ovarian cancer, specifically the CA-125 test. If a post-menopausal patient’s CA-125 is elevated and a mass has been identified, the high risk of cancer is present. However, this test is not effective in younger patients.
Stages of Ovarian Cancer
The medical treatment of the disease is dependent on the stage of the ovarian cancer diagnosis. In stage 1, the disease is limited to one or both ovaries, and has not spread. Stage 2 sees the disease spread past the ovaries, but still limited to the pelvis. Stage 3 sees the disease diagnosed outside the pelvis area but limited to the abdomen. Stage 3 can also see the disease affecting the lymph nodes but does not involve the inside of the liver. In stage 4, the disease has spread to the outside of the abdomen or to the liver.
Medically speaking, the stage a patient is at with the disease can be determined in several ways. Taking a biopsy is how stage 4 and advanced stage 3 cases are usually proven.
Following the initial diagnosis of cancer, a medical doctor may prescribe the drugs carboplatin or paclitaxel. Typically, the patient will take carboplatin every 21 days, and paclitaxel every 7 or 21 days.
The medical treatment of ovarian cancer may also involve a combination of chemotherapy and surgery. Chemotherapy is usually given via intravenous injection or introduced directly to the site in the abdomen where the disease has been identified.
Medical treatment of ovarian cancer may also involve other drugs. For example, there are several types of tumors with which a patient can be diagnosed. If a germ or stromal cell ovarian tumor has been identified, treatment will likely include the drugs cisplatin, etoposide, and bleomycin.
Will Hormone Therapy Be Needed?
Hormone therapy is a type of treatment for ovarian cancer. The goal of hormone therapy is to deprive ovarian cancer types of the hormones which help them to grow. One of these hormones is estrogen. In the medical treatment of ovarian cancer, drugs are prescribed which prevent hormones like estrogen from reaching the ovaries.
Is a Hysterectomy Required?
Many who are learning about the medical treatment of cancer wonder whether diagnosis will require a hysterectomy to be performed. This procedure is considered major surgery and will result in the inability to have children, as it involves the removal of the uterus.
Removal of the ovaries may also be a part of the hysterectomy and, if this is done, the patient will not have menstrual periods. In addition, if both ovaries are removed, the symptoms of menopause may present very shortly after the surgery. This is due to the rapid drop in hormone levels that result with ovary removal.
Preventing Ovarian Cancer
While there isn’t enough known about risk factors to allow medical doctors to offer practical prevention methods, there are many ways to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Quitting smoking is one way to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer and many other diseases.
Epithelial tumors, which, according to the Mayo Clinic account for approximately 90% of ovarian cancers, can be prevented when oral contraceptives are taken. The longer that birth control pills are taken, the lower the risk of developing the disease.
Tubal ligation may decrease the risk of developing ovarian cancer, as may a hysterectomy. However, because both procedures are major surgery, and it is strongly suggested by preventative care experts that these procedures should only be performed if there is a valid reason other than lessening the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Following treatment for the disease, a medical doctor will usually prescribe long-term monitoring to allow any changes following treatment to be immediately addressed. While this won’t prevent the redevelopment of cancer, it will allow for the timely intervention that can increase the success of medical treatment methods.
Think Teal for Ovarian Cancer
Teal is the official color for ovarian cancer awareness. Just as pink is used for breast cancer awareness and red is the color used to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, teal ribbons and products promote the benefit of education about ovarian cancer. Those who wear the teal ribbon may have lost a loved one to ovarian cancer or may have survived the disease themselves.
Coping with a Diagnosis
After having been diagnosed with a disease such as cancer, one may feel anxious, depressed, or fearful. Support measures can help patients cope with their diagnosis. Support exists in the form of counseling to manage the emotions associated with diagnosis, but can also mean attending a support group. Individuals, groups, and families can find online resources for emotional management needs due to the diagnosis of a loved one.
Classes are also available via the American Cancer Society to assist caregivers and patients with working through the emotional, mental, and physical stress of diagnosis. Classes also help caregivers provide chronic care management service to those in need.
Ovarian cancer patients can learn more about the disease through researching recent publications or asking their doctor pertinent questions on how to cope, or how to help caregivers better understand the disease and its course.
Baylor Scott & White MedProvider assists patients with the management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and depression. We also offer primary care, medical diagnostic imaging, endocrinology, and preventative health services. For more information about our services and new location, call 469-701-9075.