Ovarian cancer is the 7th most common cancer in women in the world. However, unlike breast cancer and cervical cancer, there is currently no routine screening procedure to detect a disease that is often overlooked and misunderstood.
Since 2013, May 8 has been marked as World Ovarian Cancer Day. Every year, the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition works with hundreds of organizations to raise global awareness about the fight against ovarian cancer.
According to Vancouver General Hospital and the University of British Columbia Hospital Foundation, more than 3,100 women develop ovarian cancer each year in Canada.
As the number of cases is expected to increase in the coming years, experts say it is important for all women to be aware of the signs and symptoms.
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a group of diseases that originate in the ovaries, or in the related areas of the fallopian tubes and peritoneum, which is the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity.
The ovaries are oval-shaped glands located on either side of the uterus that produce eggs for female reproduction, as well as the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
It is estimated that there are more than 30 different types of ovarian cancer, which is the most deadly of cancers in women.
What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?
The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague, which means they can often be mistaken for less severe illnesses.
Dr. Rebecca Stone, an associate professor of gynecological oncology at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, MD, says Yahoo Canada that by the time people were diagnosed with ovarian cancer their disease had probably progressed to stage three or four.
According to Stone’s estimate, approximately 85 percent of diagnosed cases are third- or fourth-degree cancer, meaning the cancer has spread beyond the pelvis to other parts of the body, such as the abdomen, liver and surrounding lymph nodes.
Some of the common symptoms include:
Who is at risk for ovarian cancer?
There are several factors that increase a woman’s chances of developing epithelial ovarian cancer, which is the most common type of ovarian cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is rare in women under the age of 40 and usually develops after menopause.
The first birth after the age of 35 and a never infertile pregnancy can also contribute to the development of ovarian cancer.
These risk factors do not apply to less common types of ovarian cancer, including germ cell tumors and stromal tumors.
A family history of ovarian cancer as well as breast cancer and colorectal cancer increases a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer.
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
Stone says many women may have a misperception that because they go for a pelvic exam once a year or do a pap test that they are also screened for ovarian cancer, but that is not the case. There is no early detection of ovarian cancer.
If there is a family history of ovarian or breast cancer at a young age, or multiple generations of colon, pancreatic or prostate cancer, Stone says you should talk to your doctor about your suitability for genetic counseling and testing.
“It’s actually the only type of‘ screening test ’we have available to screen women who may have an increased genetic risk of ovarian cancer,” Stone says.
Although only about 20 percent of ovarian cancers are hereditary, Stone says knowing your family history is a good way to identify all risks early and start with “risk reduction strategies”.
“One of them is surgery, removing the ovaries and ovaries when women are done with children, maybe one day just tubes, if we are right about our theory that most of this [ovarian cancer] it comes from the fallopian tube, not the ovary, and these studies are ongoing, ”she explains.
In addition to genetic testing, transvaginal ultrasound and biopsy can also help diagnose ovarian cancer.
Does the HPV vaccine have any effectiveness in ovarian cancer?
Studies have confirmed that the HPV vaccine can help prevent cervical cancer, but Stone says it does not protect you from ovarian cancer.
“To the best of our knowledge, ovarian cancer is not caused by HPV like cervical cancer, ”she added.
How can you reduce your risk of ovarian cancer?
You can’t prevent ovarian cancer, but there are ways to reduce the risk of diagnosis. You may be less likely to develop ovarian cancer if you have used contraception for five years or more, if your tubes have been tied, your ovaries removed or you have had a hysterectomy, and if you have given birth or breastfed.
If you are looking for ways to reduce your risk of ovarian cancer, it is recommended that you talk to your doctor first.
How is ovarian cancer treated?
The earlier it is detected, the more likely it is that ovarian cancer treatment will be successful.
Once the diagnosis is made, the doctor can put together a treatment plan that depends on a number of things, including the stage of the cancer, the type of tumor, and whether the patient wants to become pregnant in the future.
The most common treatments for ovarian cancer include a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.
New research shows promising prevention of ovarian cancer
Stone’s story Yahoo Canada that ovarian cancer research is ongoing and that science is changing. In the last 10-20 years, a lot of data has been accumulated when it comes to ovarian cancer prevention.
Previously, doctors believed that removing the ovaries was one of the best ways to prevent ovarian cancer, but Stone says new research shows that removing the fallopian tubes could be more beneficial.
In February 2022, scientists from British Columbia published new data on a procedure called opportunistic salpingectomy (OS). This procedure involves removing the fallopian tubes when the person has already undergone routine gynecological surgery such as a hysterectomy or when their fallopian tubes are tied and the ovaries are left intact.
“It’s incredibly striking because now we have the first signal that we could actually do something that doesn’t actually affect ovarian function or how someone looks or quality of life,” Stone says. “In fact, we could potentially seriously reduce the number of these deadly cancers if we do something very simple.”