September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. The James E. Cary Cancer Center urges all women to know the symptoms and know their bodies.
In 2016, the American Cancer Society estimated that 22,280 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed and that there will be 14,240 deaths due to ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is the ninth most common cancer in women and the fifth leading cause of cancer death, after lung and bronchus, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. In the past, ovarian cancer has been referred to as “the silent killer”
With ovarian cancer, the earliest symptoms are quite easy to ignore: bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly and urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency). All too often, these same symptoms can be dismissed by women as being related to menstrual cycles or indigestion. This is one of the reasons that 75% of ovarian cancers are diagnosed in the later stages. The key is that the symptoms are persistent and represent a change from the normal behavior of a woman’s body. Women who have symptoms daily for more than a week should see their doctor, preferably a gynecologist.
Self-awareness is vital. There is no screening tool available for ovarian cancer—the Pap test does not screen for ovarian cancer (it screens for cervical cancer). Different methods are being researched on how the general population can be screened, but at this time there are no tests. Some of the literature discusses the blood test, CA-125. Dr. Arif Bari, Director of Medical Oncology at the James E. Cary Cancer Center, states that he regularly uses this test for women already diagnosed with ovarian cancer to monitor their condition, but that it has not been approved as a screening tool for the general public. CA-125 can be elevated for a variety of reasons including: uterine fibroids, liver disease and inflammation of the fallopian tubes. Another common diagnostic tool is the transvaginal ultrasound which would allow physicians to view the ovaries. At this time, this tool is used only when there is a suspected problem and is not indicated as a public screening tool. The biggest barrier in early detection is the lack of awareness among women and the healthcare community.
Risk factors for ovarian cancer include hereditary genetic mutations, age, early start of menstrual cycles, not having children, having children late in life, never using oral contraceptives and obesity. A great resource to learn more about Ovarian Cancer is the Ovarian Cancer Alliance at https://ocrahope.org.
For more information on ovarian cancer and treatment options, please contact the James E. Cary Cancer Center at 573-406-5800.