OVARIAN CANCER AWARENESS
Almost 70,000 women die from gynecologic and breast cancers each year. In addition, approximately 250,000 women are diagnosed with a cancer of the breast or reproductive tract annually.
In the female body, two ovaries (each about an inch-and-a-half long) are located on the left and right sides of the uterus in the pelvic region. Ovaries produce hormones and hold egg cells, which can develop into a fetus when fertilized.
Each year more than 22,000 women in the United States learn that they have ovarian cancer.
When cancer cells are found in the lining of the ovary, the condition is called epithelial ovarian cancer. When malignant cells or tumor are found in the egg-producing cells, the condition is called germ cell ovarian cancer. Genetic screening can help determine if a woman is a carrier of a mutated (changed) gene and, therefore, at greater risk of developing the disease.
Often no symptoms are evident in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they may include:
- Gas, nausea, indigestion that does not go away
- Back pain
- Frequent urination
- Unexplained change in bowel habits
- Abnormal postmenopausal bleeding
- Weight gain or loss
- Pain during intercourse
- Abdominal swelling and/or pain, bloating or a feeling of fullness. Ovarian cancer may spread to the sac inside the abdomen that holds the intestines, uterus and ovaries - causing fluid to accumulate and the abdomen to swell.
- Shortness of breath caused by the spread of the disease to the muscle under the lung. Fluid buildup in the area makes it difficult for the patient to breathe.
If symptoms continue for longer than four to six weeks, patients should insist on a thorough pelvic examination by their doctor.
- A family history of the disease, especially in a mother, daughter or sister
- Family history of breast or colon cancer
- Being a woman who has had breast or colon cancer
- Being a women older than age 50
- Never having had children
- Having taken certain fertility drugs
A comprehensive medical history is taken, and a physical exam (including a pelvic examination) is performed. For this, the doctor inserts one gloved finger in the rectum and one in the vagina at the same time. The vagina, rectum and lower abdomen are probed for masses and growths. Taking a mild laxative or enema before the pelvic exam can be helpful. Other tests include:
- A Pap smear (a common test for cancer of the cervix) is often part of the pelvic exam, though it does not offer a reliable way to diagnose ovarian cancer. Every woman should undergo regular rectal and vaginal pelvic examinations.
- Transvaginal sonography and tumor markers are alternative ways of diagnosing ovarian cancer.
- Ultrasonography aims high frequency sound waves at the ovaries. The echo pattern produced creates a picture called a sonogram. Healthy tissues, fluid-filled cysts and tumors produce different echoes.
- A computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan, a series of computerized X-rays, allows doctors to see cancer cells.
- A lower GI series, or barium enema, is a series of X-rays of the colon and rectum. Pictures are taken after the patient is given an enema with a white chalky solution containing barium. The barium outlines the colon and the rectum on the X-ray, which helps the doctor see tumors or other abnormal areas.
- An intravenous pyelogram (IVP) is an X-ray of the kidneys and uterus taken when dye is injected into the body.
- Blood tests measure a substance in the blood called CA-125. Ovarian cancer cells can produce this tumor marker. CA-125 is not always present in women with ovarian cancer, though it may be present in women who have benign ovarian conditions. This blood test cannot be used alone to diagnose cancer.
A biopsy (removing and examining tissue) of the ovaries is the only way to definitively diagnose cancer. If cancer is suspected, the surgeon removes the entire ovary (oophorectomy) because infected cells could escape and spread when cutting through the outer layer of the ovary. The surgeon also removes nearby lymph nodes, samples of tissue from the diaphragm and other organs and fluid from the abdomen. A pathologist examines these cells to identify cancer. This process, called surgical staging, is needed to find out whether the cancer has spread and to determine a plan for treatment.
Treating ovarian cancer depends on a number of factors, including the stage of the disease and the woman's age and general health. Oncologists who specialize in this disease can best determine the treatment plan. Because treatment decisions are complex, more than one doctor's advice can be helpful.
When talking about choices, the patient may want to ask about taking part in a research study or clinical trial. These scientific studies are designed to find new and better ways to treat cancer. Ovarian cancer treatment possibilities are:
- Surgery to remove the uterus, both ovaries and the fallopian tubes
- Chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs)
- Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy)
Resources at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
Frequently Asked Questions
Why should I care?
Every 7 minutes in the United States a woman is diagnosed with a cancer of the reproductive organs. Many will win their fight against cancer, but sadly many will lose their battle. Those who win, in the vast majority of cases, are women who knew their bodies well enough to realize there might be something wrong. Four out of five women who beat cancer are successful because they seek care early in their disease. Cedars-Sinai Women's Cancer Research Institute, is a resource for care, but equally important an advocate for research, education and prevention. The best way to treat cancer is to stop it in the earliest stages. No matter the diagnosis, WCRI is equipped to provide the best services at every stage of women's cancers.
Where does my money go?
Proceeds from the event benefit the Cedars-Sinai Women's Cancer Research Institute (WCRI) at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Research Institute. The work of WCRI is targeted on three specific efforts, research, clinical care, and advocacy and education. Within research, WCRI has become a recognized leader in the study of ovarian cancer. WCRI has one of the world's most comprehensive tissue repositories, with leading collections of ovary, breast, and related gynecologic and blood cultures to study comprehensively the impact and progression of cancer. WCRI sponsors the Gilda Radner Cancer Detection Program, a research study designed to identify women and men at genetic risk for cancer and involve them in preventative care before they are diagnosed with the disease.
What can I do?
Everyone can make a difference in the fight to end cancer as a threat to women, some through care, others through advocacy and education, or through philanthropy, every single instance of involvement moves us one step closer to the realization of a world without cancer.
Why ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer, often called the "disease that whispers" is lower in "incidence" but far higher in death rate. Most women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer only live up to five years after their diagnosis. There is no clinical screening for ovarian cancer, and the most successful tool to fight ovarian cancer is education of personal health. There are enormous opportunities to improve health and save lives by increasing research, education, and prevention related to ovarian cancer.