Understanding the Causes and Treatment of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian Cancer is known as the deadliest gynecologic cancer in the United States. The fact that symptoms aren’t usually detected or diagnosed until the disease has reached advanced stages make the illness more deadly.

According to the American Cancer Society, 22,240 women in the United States were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and 14,070 women were projected to die from this illness in 2018. September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and the optimal time to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of this disease.

Ovarian cancer symptoms include:

Pain in the stomach or pelvis.

Having trouble eating, or feeling full quickly.

Recent, frequent bloating.

Urinary problems, such as an urgent need to urinate or urinating more often than usual.

“It’s sometimes common for women to experience these symptoms and not have ovarian cancer,” said  Dr. Farah M. Brasfield, regional chief of hematology oncology with Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

“However, if these symptoms are new, and you experience them on a daily basis for a time-period of two to three weeks, then it’s wise for you to see your doctor as it could be a sign of ovarian cancer. This disease typically affects women who are post-menopausal.” 

Family history plays a big role in women developing ovarian cancer, as does the inheritance of gene changes that increase their chances of getting it, Brasfield noted.

How Ovarian Cancer is Diagnosed

It’s important to understand your medical history when determining whether you’re at risk for ovarian cancer, and to schedule a medical examination if there’s concern.

An annual pap smear test doesn’t detect ovarian cancer. To detect ovarian cancer, a pelvic and rectal examination may be necessary. In addition, blood tests may be used to diagnose ovarian cancer.

“One way to determine if a woman has ovarian cancer is through biopsies taken during surgery,” Brasfield said. “That’s when tissue samples are removed and sent to a lab to determine if they contain cancer cells.”

How is Ovarian Cancer Treated?

Treatment of ovarian cancer is mainly done through surgery, where a doctor typically will remove one or both ovaries.

Treatment often also includes chemotherapy, which may be given before or after surgery. Other options include targeted therapy , hormone therapy and immunotherapy.

“As is the case with other forms of cancer, treatment of ovarian cancer is most effective when diagnosed in its early stages,” Brasfield said. “That’s why testing is important, especially among women who have a history and/or experiencing menopause.”

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