Look around you the next time you're at the store, at a sporting event or anywhere with a group of people. Can you count 75 women? The odds are that one woman in 75 will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her lifetime.
That translates to more than 22,000 women getting a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer this year. But the most shocking statistic is that more than 14,000 of those women who are diagnosed will eventually die of the disease. Ovarian cancer is hard to detect, so by the time it's discovered, it has often spread -- making it more difficult to eradicate.
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine aims at identifying areas of improvement for diagnosing and treating ovarian cancer. Suggestions for increasing research and what areas should see special focus may help save more lives, including yours or that of a loved one.
Ovarian Cancer May Not Start in the Ovaries
One of the report's findings is that ovarian cancer isn't just one disease, but many different subtypes -- and some of those may not actually start in the ovaries. Cancer cells that originate in the uterus or fallopian tubes can easily move to the ovaries, which are particularly ideal for cell growth. Ovarian tissue tends to have more blood vessels and thus be able to provide more nutrients for the out-of-control cancerous cells.
Identifying the various types of cancers can help researchers pour more attention and funding into those. High-grade serous carcinoma, for example, affects between 60 and 70 percent of patients; it also tends to be more deadly than other types. Making research into this type of cancer a priority may help save lives.
This information also opens up some changes in the way gynecologists view the health of the reproductive system. If doctors were able to find cancer cells in the uterus or fallopian tubes as well as in the ovaries during routine screening, it could help with early treatment.
Findings Could Lead to Early Diagnoses
Early detection of ovarian cancer, particularly some types of carcinomas, is one of the keys to a positive outcome. When caught in an early stage, more types of treatments, including those currently being studied like high-dose chemotherapy with autologous stem cell rescue. For patients whose cancer was identified early and who could undergo that type of treatment, 71 percent survived 5 years compared with 25 percent who did not have the treatment.
Because symptoms can mimic other, less serious reproductive system problems, doctors also need to make patients more aware of scheduling regular appointments and discussing any abnormalities at that time. Some typical ovarian cancer symptoms include:
- Pain and pressure in the abdomen
- Feeling bloated or abnormally full after eating
- Greater feeling of needing to urinate
- Delayed or particularly uncomfortable menstruation
- Pain during intercourse
Paying attention to these issues, which can seem minor when viewed alone, are important. Doctors can use this information to better educate patients so it's easier to catch ovarian cancer early.
If you have questions about ovarian cancer, are at higher risk or want to know more about whether you have symptoms, talk to your gynecologist or obgyn.