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Ovarian Cancer  

Cancer can affect virtually every organ in the body. The ovary is where life is created but it can also be affected by cancer. Ovarian cancer is one of the top 10 deadliest cancers in the US, having taken the lives of 73,638 women. It is the number 4 cause of cancer death in women. New cases and deaths from ovarian cancer in the United States in 2012 have been estimated at 22,280 and 15,500.

 

Ovarian cancer originates in the ovary.  This disease is highly treatable if caught in the early stages.  Therefore early detection and testing is critical to save lives.  The cancer is easy to treat in the early stages but accurate detection can be difficult at times.  However improvements in diagnostic tools are changing the effectiveness of these early warning systems. 

The cause of ovarian cancer is unknown but the risk of developing it appears to be based on a number of factors.  It was found that if a woman has more children earlier in her life, the risk of developing this disease increases.  Women with a history of breast cancer or a family history of breast or ovarian cancer are at greater risk. 

Women who take estrogen replacement drugs for five or more years have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.  But it has been found that those taking birth control pills have a reduced risk. 

The disease is more common for older women, especially those over 55. 

The symptoms for ovarian may not be very distinct.  Sometimes women mistake the symptoms for other conditions like menstruation or menopause.  If these symptoms are ignored the cancer may have spread beyond the ovaries once it is diagnosed. 

So a person should pay attention to the following symptoms such as bloating or a swollen belly area; difficulty in eating or getting a full feeling after eating just a little bit; and pelvic or lower abdominal pain.  In addition other symptoms such as vaginal bleeding between periods, increased gas, lack of appetite, unexpected weight loss or gain, and nausea and vomiting can be associated with other problems which are not cancerous. 

So regular checkups and testing are important.  A physical exam is usually recommended regularly to check for problems.  A pelvic exam is important to help find an ovarian or abdominal mass.  Other tests can include blood tests, pregnancy tests, CT or MRI of the pelvis or abdomen, and an ultrasound of the pelvis.  Sometimes a pelvic laparoscopy or exploratory laparotomy is performed to take a biopsy of the ovaries. 

For most early stage ovarian cancers, surgery is the recommended treatment option.  This may involve a total hysterectomy which is a removal of the uterus.  It may also be necessary to remove one or both ovaries and fallopian tubes.  Other options such as a partial or complete removal of the omentum may be necessary.  And in some cases a biopsy of the lymph nodes is performed and their removal may be necessary depending on results. 

Chemotherapy is usually involved following surgery to ensure that all cancerous tissue is treated.  Radiation therapy is not commonly used in ovarian cancer.  So if the cancer is identified in the early stages, these treatments can be very effective.  If the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries, the prospects are not nearly as encouraging so early detection and testing is key.