September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
Approximately 21,980 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. Ovarian cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer for women, so it’s important to diagnose early. Unfortunately, many women don’t seek help until cancer has spread because the symptoms of ovarian cancer are not always obvious. This month is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, so I wanted to take a moment to provide information about this disease and how to identify it.
What Is Ovarian Cancer?
Your ovaries are next to your uterus and they make the hormones estrogen and progesterone, as well as producing the eggs that allow us to get pregnant. Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells grow out of control. Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries or nearby areas such as the fallopian tubes or the peritoneum and occurs when the cells in these areas grow uncontrollably.
What Are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are typically vague and can be mistaken for something else. And while they are different for each woman, there are some symptoms that are common in women who are eventually diagnosed with the disease. These include:
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge that is not normal for you
- Back or abdominal pain
- Pain or pressure in the pelvic area
- Difficulty eating
- Feeling full too quickly
- Changes in bathroom habits, like frequent urination or constipation.
How Is It Diagnosed?
There are typically two types of tests performed to help diagnose a disease: a screening and a diagnostic test.
Screening is a test that is done to look for a disease before the symptoms start to appear. For example, pap tests, which are performed at a routine gynecological exam, can screen for cervical cancer before there are symptoms. Unfortunately, when it comes to ovarian cancer, there is no simple and reliable option for screening.
A diagnostic test is performed after symptoms start to appear, and is used to find out what is causing a person’s symptoms. If a woman is having symptoms, the best course for finding a diagnosis is to ask Dr. Grove or me if she should undergo a diagnostic test. Diagnostic tests for ovarian cancer may include a rectovaginal pelvic exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, or a CA-125 blood test. These tests can sometimes help rule out or diagnose ovarian cancer.
CA-125 Blood Test
You may have heard about the CA-125 blood test as a way of testing for ovarian cancer. The test measures the amount of the cancer antigen 125, which is a protein that is a biomarker or tumor marker, present in the blood. High concentrations of CA-125 are found in cancer cells, such as those of ovarian cancer.
However, while this blood test can find markers of ovarian cancer, it is not a very realistic option for screening. In order to be efficient in catching the disease early, a woman would have to have the blood test much more frequently than the typical annual exam. The CA-125 test is more helpful for women who have already been diagnosed with ovarian cancer to see if the chemotherapy is helping reduce their CA-125 levels.
Are There Specific Risk Factors?
There’s no way to predict whether a woman will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In fact, many women who are diagnosed are not high risk. However, there are some factors that might increase a woman’s risk. These include:
- if you are middle-aged or older;
- members of your family, like your mother or sister, have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer;
- you have had other cancers, such as uterine, breast, or colon cancer;
- you have a genetic mutation, called BRCA1 or BRCA2;
- you have endometriosis;
- you have never given birth or have had trouble getting pregnant; and/or
- you have an Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish background.
It has also been suggested by some studies that women who take estrogen (without progesterone) for 10 or more years may have an increased risk of getting ovarian cancer.
How Is Ovarian Cancer Treated?
Ovarian cancer treatment usually involves some combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Surgery is done to remove cancer tissue, and chemotherapy is used to shrink or kill cancer cells. A woman’s treatment will depend on her specific case and what we discuss together. To choose the right treatment path for you, Dr. Grove or I will talk with you at your appointment so that you can understand the risks, benefits, and side effects of each treatment option.
Both Dr. Grove and I are experienced in surgical treatment for ovarian cancer, from removing cancer tissue to removing the ovaries all together.
In fact, it is recommended that women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, which is a mutation that increases a woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer, have their ovaries removed when they are done having children. We can perform this surgery for women with this gene, or for other women who are through having children that we believe would benefit from this treatment option.
Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month at A Woman’s Healing Center
I know that ovarian cancer can be frightening, and Dr. Grove and I, along with doctors across the world, are working hard to find more options for screening and treatment. We have been making headway along the years, increasing the time that women with ovarian cancer survive after diagnosis, but there is still more work to be done.
If you have any questions or concerns about ovarian cancer, please reach out to either myself or Dr. Grove, or fill out the form below to request an appointment.