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1 in every 100 women with ovarian cancer will die
Cindy figured she was safe.
She exercised regularly, ate nothing but healthy foods and loved to tell her friends she hasn’t been sick a ay in her live. Serious illnesses were the kind of thing that happened to other people. Then, during a routine annual check up Cindy found out she was wrong.
Ovarian cancer is a cancerous growth arising from different parts of the ovary.
Most (>90%) ovarian cancers are classified as "epithelial" and were believed to arise from the surface (epithelium) of the ovary. However, recent evidence suggests that the Fallopian tube could also be the source of some ovarian cancers. Since the ovaries and tubes are closely related to each other, it is hypothesized that these cells can mimic ovarian cancer. Other types arise from the egg cells (germ cell tumor) or supporting cells (sex cord/stromal).
In 2004, in the United States, 25,580 new cases were diagnosed and 16,090 women died of ovarian cancer. The risk increases with age and decreases with pregnancy. Lifetime risk is about 1.6%, but women with affected first-degree relatives have a 5% risk. Women with a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene carry a risk between 25% and 60% depending on the specific mutation. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of death from cancer in women and the leading cause of death from gynecological cancer.
In early stages ovarian cancer is associated with abdominal distension.
10-year relative survival ranges from 84.1% in stage IA to 10.4% in stage IIIC.
Ovarian cancer causes non-specific symptoms. Early diagnosis would result in better survival, on the assumption that stage I and II cancers progress to stage III and IV cancers (but this has not been proven). Most women with ovarian cancer report one or more symptoms such as abdominal pain or discomfort, an abdominal mass, bloating, back pain, urinary urgency, constipation, tiredness and a range of other non-specific symptoms, as well as more specific symptoms such as pelvic pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding or involuntary weight loss. There can be a build-up of fluid in the abdominal cavity.
Diagnosis of ovarian cancer starts with a physical examination (including a pelvic examination), a blood test (for CA-125 and sometimes other markers), and transvaginal ultrasound. The diagnosis must be confirmed with surgery to inspect the abdominal cavity, take biopsies (tissue samples for microscopic analysis) and look for cancer cells in the abdominal fluid. Treatment usually involves chemotherapy and surgery, and sometimes radiotherapy.
In most cases, the cause of ovarian cancer remains unknown. Older women, and in those who have a first or second degree relative with the disease, have an increased risk. Hereditary forms of ovarian cancer can be caused by mutations in specific genes (most notably BRCA1 and BRCA2, but also in genes for hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer). Infertile women and those with a condition called endometriosis, those who have never been pregnant and those who use postmenopausal estrogen replacement therapy are at increased risk. Use of combined oral contraceptive pills is a protective factor. The risk is also lower in women who have had their uterine tubes blocked surgically (tubal ligation).
Routine screening of women for ovarian cancer is not recommended by any professional society - this includes the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the American Cancer Society, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. This is because no trial has shown improved survival for women undergoing screening. Screening for any type of cancer must be accurate and reliable - it needs to accurately detect the disease and it must not give false positive results in people who do not have cancer. As yet there is no technique for ovarian screening that has been shown to fulfill these criteria. However in some countries such as the UK, women who are likely to have an increased risk of ovarian cancer (for example if they have a family history of the disease) can be offered individual screening through their doctors, although this will not necessarily detect the disease at an early stage.
Researchers are assessing different ways to screen for ovarian cancer. Screening tests that could potentially be used alone or in combination for routine screening include the CA-125 marker and transvaginal ultrasound. Doctors can measure the levels of the CA-125 protein in a woman’s blood - high levels could be a sign of ovarian cancer, but this is not always the case. And not all women with ovarian cancer have high CA-125 levels. Transvaginal ultrasound involves using an ultrasound probe to scan the ovaries from inside the vagina, giving a clearer image than scanning the abdomen. The UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening is testing a screening technique that combines CA-125 blood tests with transvaginal ultrasound.
The purpose of screening is to diagnose ovarian cancer at an early stage, when it is more likely to be treated successfully. However the development of the disease is not fully understood, and it has been argued that early-stage cancers may not always develop into late-stage disease. With any screening technique there are risks and benefits that need to be carefully considered, and health authorities need to assess these before introducing any ovarian cancer screening programs.
The goal of ovarian cancer screening is to detect the disease at stage I. Several large studies are ongoing, but none have identified an effective technique. In 2009, however, early results from the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) showed that a technique combining annual CA-125 tests with ultrasound imaging did help to detect the disease at an early stage. However, it's not yet clear if this approach could actually help to save lives - the full results of the trial will be published in 2015.
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