For those who are familiar with my work(books and websites), you would know I spend a good deal of time raising awareness for ovarian cancer. Here in Australia we allocated the month of February as the annual season to push the “awareness” message out, whilst the United States dedicate their activities to the month of September.
I support each, but as the Founder/Creator of the Feel Teal Club, made it the club’s mission to support the message of awareness, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.
There’s a growing number of wonderful organisations working hard to see the public are well informed on the disease, and like the Feel Teal Club, continually researching the internet and other sources to ensure the information is also up-to-date and accurate.Raising awareness is a crucial factor for this particular cancer as sadly, (unlike Breast and Cervical cancer), there has been no diagnostic method available which quite often leads to late diagnosing when the cancer is already in its late stages.Like any cancer, you want an early diagnosis in order to increase the odds of beating it, so knowing the symptoms could very well save a life! So what is, Ovarian cancer and who gets it?
Please read the details below:
The ovaries are two small almond shaped organs that are part of the female reproductive system. Each ovary measures about 2–4 cm across and they sit on either side of the uterus (which is sometimes called the womb).
Each ovary contains germ cells that eventually develop into eggs (ova). The ovaries also produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which regulate your menstrual cycle and affect the development of female body characteristics
Types of Ovarian cancer
There are four main types of ovarian cancer, and these are named after the type of cells in the ovary where the cancer begins growing:
- Epithelial ovarian cancer begins in the epithelium: the outer cells that cover the ovary. This is the most common type of ovarian cancer, accounting for about 90% of cases.
- Borderline tumours are a group of epithelial tumours which are not as aggressive as other epithelial tumours. Borderline tumours may also be called ‘low malignant potential’ or LMP tumours. The outlook for women with borderline tumours is generally good regardless of whether the disease is diagnosed early or late.
- Germ cell ovarian cancer begins in the cells that mature into eggs. These tumours account for about 5% of ovarian cancers and usually affect women under 30 years.
Sex-cord stromal cell ovarian cancer begins in the ovary cells that release female hormones. These tumours account for about 5% of ovarian cancers and can affect women of any age.
Both germ cell and sex-cord stromal cell ovarian cancers respond well to treatment and are often curable. If either of these cancers affect only one ovary, it may be possible for younger women to have children after treatment.
Diagnosing Ovarian cancer
If your doctor suspects ovarian cancer, there are a number of tests they can perform to help decide whether your symptoms are due to ovarian cancer or other causes. Of these tests, it is strongly recommended that both the CA125 blood test and the transvaginal ultrasound are performed.
There isn’t any one test that can be used to diagnose ovarian cancer. Doctors use both a blood test and a transvaginal ultrasound (and possibly other tests) to help make a diagnosis. If these tests strongly suggest ovarian cancer, then your doctor will recommend an operation (surgery), which is the only definite way to diagnose ovarian cancer.
Initial examinations and tests will usually include:
- Physical examination. Your doctor will examine you physically and this will include an internal pelvic examination where they check for a mass or a lump in the lower abdomen or pelvis.
- Blood tests. Your blood will be tested for a particular protein or a tumour marker called CA125. This protein is often higher than normal in women with ovarian cancer. Some women may have other tumour markers called ‘inhibin’ or ‘CEA’. The type of marker depends on the type of tumour. However, some tumours will not have any of these tumour markers. Testing your blood for these tumour markers is one way to help diagnose cancer. In women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, these tests are also used later on to check the progress of the illness.
- Ultrasound. A transvaginal ultrasound (TVU) involves an ultrasound probe being inserted into your vagina to relay images of the ovaries to a radiologist. It is important that this type of ultrasound is used as it gives a much clearer picture of the ovaries than an abdominal or external ultrasound.
- Other imaging tests. Sometimes your doctor may organise other imaging tests. These may include chest or abdominal x-rays, an ultrasound of your lower abdomen, a CT scan, or possibly an MRI.Your doctor may order an x-ray of your bowel called a barium enema to see if a bowel problem is causing your symptoms.
Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer
Family History of Ovarian Cancer
If your mother, sister or daughter has had ovarian cancer, especially if they developed it at a young age, you are considered to have an increased risk of developing the disease yourself.
About 7 percent to 10 percent of ovarian cancers result from an inherited tendency to develop the disease. The same genetic abnormality that occurs in breast cancer (BRCA1, and to a lesser extent BRCA2) may also be found in ovarian cancers.
Most epithelial ovarian cancers develop after menopause. Menopause is considered to have occurred when a woman goes one year without a menstrual period. On average, menopause occurs at age 51 in the United States. Half of all ovarian cancers are found in women over the age of 60.
Although ovarian cancer is rare in younger women, the types that do occur tend to be easier to treat than the epithelial tumors that affect older women. This is in contrast to breast cancer, which tends to be more difficult to treat in younger women.
There seems to be a relationship between the number of menstrual cycles that occur in a woman’s lifetime and her risk of developing ovarian cancer. For this reason, starting menstruation at an early age (before age 12), not having children or having your first child after age 30, and experiencing menopause after age 50 may increase your risk of ovarian cancer.
By the same reasoning, using oral contraceptives (birth control pills) appears to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, especially after five years of use, perhaps because it stops the ovulation process. Having a hysterectomy, or surgical removal of the uterus, or tubal ligation (tying the tubes to prevent pregnancy) also seems to reduce the ovarian cancer risk.
Breast feeding slightly lowers the ovarian cancer risk, most likely because breast feeding may delay the start of the menstrual period after pregnancy.
Personal History of Breast Cancer
If you have had breast cancer, your risk for developing ovarian cancer is increased. This may be because inherited mutations of certain genes may increase your risk of both types of cancers, or because of other common risk factors.
Some studies suggest that long-term use of a fertility drug (clomiphene citrate) may increase a woman’s risk of developing borderline (grade 0) EOC, but this is still under investigation. Some research suggests that it is not the drug itself, but the underlying infertility, that increases the EOC risk.
It has been suggested that talcum powder applied directly to the genital area or on sanitary napkins may cause ovarian cancer, but this link is not well documented. The finding in some studies may relate to the fact that in the past talcum powder was sometimes contaminated with asbestos, a known cancer-causing mineral.
What can YOU do??