Each year, ovarian cancer is diagnosed in nearly a quarter of a million women worldwide and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women. Increasing one’s awareness and recognizing the signs, symptoms and risk factors associated with ovarian cancer are important for women to understand in order to take the steps to detect it at a stage when the chance of a cure may be higher.
A little background: Ovarian cancer consists of a group of cancers that originate from the various tissues within the ovary. Many types of tumors that start in the ovaries are benign (noncancerous) and never spread beyond the ovary. Women with these types of tumors can be treated with a full or partial removal of the ovary. Other types of tumors are cancerous (or malignant) and can spread to other parts of the body and require a more extensive evaluation and treatment program. There are three types of ovarian cancers, including:
- Epithelial – generally in ages over 50, most common
- Germ Cell – generally in ages 0-25
- Stromal Cell – all ages, least common
Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most common type and is what we have seen and heard gain the most attention in the news as of late. It rises from the ovarian surface and spreads rapidly throughout the abdominal cavity. The lifetime risk for women diagnosed with this type is about one in 70, and it is typically seen in women over the age of 50 who are post menopausal but does not exclude women who are still menstruating. In most cases, ovarian cancer does not reveal early signs or symptoms, and the majority of women who are diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer are already at an advanced stage (stage III or IV).
Unfortunately, there is currently no effective early screening strategy for this type of cancer, but there are persistent symptoms that women should be aware of, including: prolonged abdominal bloating and/or pain, unexplained nausea, vomiting and difficulty eating. One important factor to consider is family history. Although the majority of cases occur at random, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are associated with 10-15 percent of ovarian cancer cases. Since these genes are linked to both breast and ovarian cancer, women who have had breast cancer have an increased risk of ovarian cancer. If the patient has had a family member with ovarian cancer, genetic screening should be scheduled as early as possible to identify predisposing factors. A gynecologic oncologist should perform these screenings and discuss options and next steps if the mutations are present.
The good news is that ovarian cancer is highly treatable and very responsive to surgery and chemotherapy. A gyn-oncologist, a specialist in treating women’s reproductive cancers, should treat these procedures and will diagnose and oversee the cytoreductive surgical procedure, followed by chemotherapy. During this type of surgery, doctors attempt to remove all visible tumors (tumor debulking). Improved outcomes, in terms of survival and disease-free intervals, have been documented when gynecologic oncologists oversee the primary surgical removal of the tumor followed by preventive chemotherapy.
So how can a woman reduce her risk? Currently there is no way of preventing ovarian cancer. However, several measures have been found to reduce a woman’s risk of developing the disease. Women who had a significant number of pregnancies, women who breast-fed, and women who took oral birth control (for any five or more years in their life) all showed to have significantly lowered their risk of ovarian cancer.
It is important to empower women with the knowledge to take charge of their health and be good advocates for themselves.
~Courtesy of Richmond Family Magazine
Charles Jones III, M.D.
Charles Jones III, M.D., is a practicing gynecologic oncologist at Commonwealth Gynecologic Oncology in Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital. Dr. Jones received his medical degree from Bowman Gray School of Medicine, Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and completed a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Wake Forest University. Dr. Jones completed a fellowship in the Department of Surgery, Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Dr. Jones is also an award-winning physician who has contributed to a variety of published studies and medical texts on the practice of gynecology/oncology. He is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology.
About Bon Secours Cancer Institute
At Bon Secours, we see cancer differently. At the Bon Secours Cancer Institute and our four area hospitals, you’ll find state-of-the-art radiation and medical oncology experts along with the latest cancer-fighting technology. The expert care teams at the Bon Secours Cancer Institute combine compassion with the best in scientific care to fight all forms of cancer. Our world-class surgical, medical and radiation oncology experts, certified oncology nurses and support staff provide the personal attention and reassurance patients and their loved ones need to heal and feel whole again.For more information on how Bon Secours’ expert care team members combine the science to cure with the art of compassion, please visit BonSecours.com.
Call 353-HOPE for general cancer care information.
Click here to find a Cancer Care location near you.