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Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

Less than 20% of ovarian cancer is detected in its early stages. Because of this rate, ovarian cancer is often referred to as “silent” or a “whisper”. This Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we want to amplify the whisper that affects over 20,000 women in the US every year and educate women about the risks of Ovarian cancer, treatment, and scientific progress in the fight against it.

Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer

Early detection is one of the best ways to fight ovarian cancer. During the pelvic exam portion of your regular annual visit, your health care provider will feel your ovaries to assess their size, consistency, and shape. Often pelvic exams are useful for early detection of other types of cancers, but ovarian cancer is harder to assess in its early stages.

Because of the size and location of the ovaries, symptoms for ovarian cancer can go undetected and they often do not manifest until the cancer is in a later stage. If you begin to experience any of these symptoms and it lasts for longer than two weeks, you should make an appointment with your primary care doctor to discuss them. When you meet with your doctor, talk to them about whether or not they recommend scheduling an appointment with a gynecologic oncologist to discuss further treatment options.

Symptoms for ovarian cancer include:

  • Constipation or menstrual changes
  • Pain during sex
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Back pain
  • Feeling the need to urinate often and/or urgently

Testing for Ovarian Cancer

Scientists and Doctors are still working on developing a test to specifically screen for ovarian cancer. In the meantime, there are several other screening tests which can aid in detection:

  • TVUS (Transvaginal ultrasound): A physician will insert an ultrasound wand into the vagina. This wand produces sound waves that travel through the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes and help locate masses in any of those areas. If a mass is found, a doctor will have to perform a biopsy to determine whether or not the mass is cancerous or benign.
  • CA-125 Blood Test: This test measures the amount of CA-125 (a protein) in the blood. Women who have ovarian cancer typically have higher levels of CA-125, although this is not always the case. This test is also not 100% accurate, because high levels of C-125 are also found in women who have more common illnesses like endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, and ovarian cysts. If your protein levels are high during a CA-125 blood test, your doctor may have you undergo a TVUS.
  • Developments in Screening: Because of the recognized limitations of the TVUS and CA-125 blood test, researchers have long been trying to perfect a better test to detect ovarian cancer. A team in Australia recently developed a new blood test that utilizes a non-harmful version of a toxin that identifies sugars on the surface of cancer cells. When blood was collected from women who had undergone this test, it was able to identify cancer markers in 90% of women with stage 1 ovarian cancer and 100% of women with later-stage ovarian cancer. Researchers are currently planning further trials.

Treatment for Ovarian Cancer

If detected early, ovarian cancer 5-year survival rates are about 92%. With a later stage diagnosis, the 5-year survival rate drops to 44%. However, treatments and initial screening technologies are constantly advancing, so if you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, find educational and emotional resources that can keep you informed about recovery options and provide you with a support system.

Surgery: Several types of surgery can be performed at different stages of ovarian cancer treatment. Biopsy surgery will likely be part of your official ovarian cancer diagnosis; this operation also may include “debulking,” or removing as many tumors as possible. After receiving chemotherapy, you may undergo a second-look surgery, which is far less invasive. This surgery is used to assess whether or not cancer cells are still in your body. If your cancer did not respond well to chemotherapy, you can undergo another debulking surgery or an operation to remove affected body parts like the ovaries. All surgeries are best performed by a gynecologic oncologist.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy, administered at a physician’s office, is a dosage of chemicals meant to shrink tumors and stop them from growing. Your chemotherapy may be administered via mouth, a shot, an IV, or through an IP (intraperitoneal) catheter. Depending on the stage of your cancer, your doctor will also decide how frequently to administer chemotherapy.

Radiation: Although common in the treatment of other types of cancer, radiation is rarely used to treat ovarian cancer. If radiation is prescribed for your ovarian cancer, it will be external beam radiation therapy. External beam radiation is administered through a machine that focuses the radiation on the area of your body where ovarian cancer tumors have been found. You typically have one short session a day, for several weeks.

If you are worried about your gynecological health, do not hesitate to call the Capital Women’s Care team to set up an appointment today! Our staff are highly trained and educated to help answer any questions you may have.