Women's Health

Can Any Woman Get Ovarian Cancer?

Can Any Woman Get Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer tends to fall under the radar. Many women are not aware of its particulars, unless or until they happen to have a family member or friend diagnosed.

It tends to be thought of in similar terms as cervical cancer, with women unknowingly believing that pap smear results will reveal a warning sign. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and there isn’t currently a screening test for it.

The symptoms can be easily mistaken for other medical issues.

While some women are unaware of the preliminary symptoms, others may have awareness but be afraid to ask their doctor about it. Waiting to ask is a bad idea with this particular disease.

It progresses quickly, and prognosis isn’t favorable for late diagnosis.

Ovarian cancer is likely to strike certain populations more than others, but any woman can get it. Even one who doesn’t fall into an at-risk category. Any woman that is, who still has her ovaries. If you have had your ovaries removed, you are not at risk for that specific disease, which is why some women get them removed.

Women who’ve had their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed can however get Peritoneal carcinomatosis, which is a similar, but rare type of cancer. The treatment for it is the same as for ovarian cancer.

When ovaries are removed there may be a 2 to 3 times increased risk of Colorectal cancer, which is affected by hormones.

Statistics on ovarian cancer

To get an idea of how common it is:

  • There are about 200,000 cases in the U.S. per year.
  • It is just as likely to occur in a developed country as an undeveloped country.
  • It is the 8th most common cancer in women in the world.
  • The average age of diagnosis is 63, so around half are younger than 63 and half are older. Usually women over 40 are more likely to be diagnosed. It is rare for teens and children to get ovarian cancer.
  • 70 percent of cases are the most malignant form, called high-grade serous cancer or HGSOC.
  • It is the leading cause of death among gynecological cancers.
  • 1 in 73 women will get ovarian cancer in their life.

According to the American Cancer Society:

  • About 22,440 women will be newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2017.
  • About 14,080 women will die from ovarian cancer in 2017.

These numbers are sobering, but they don’t tell the whole story.

There are factors which make it more or less likely to occur. Knowing these risk factors and taking action with early detection are crucial.

What influences your risk?

To preface the risks, the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance states, “Having risk factors does not predict you will get ovarian cancer. Some women who get the disease have no known risk factors, and most women with the risk factors will not get ovarian cancer.”

However, it is extremely important to be aware of the risks, pay attention to your body and communicate with your doctor. Some circumstances which increase the chances of you getting ovarian cancer are:

  • If you have a family history of the disease, as in your grandmother, mother, daughter or sister has had it, you should be tested. 1 in 10 cases is hereditary, involving gene mutations, specifically of breast cancer gene 1 and 2 (BRCA1 and BRCA2)
  • If you’ve had hormone replacement therapy (with menopause for example) you should pay attention to potential symptoms. Using estrogen alone or with another hormone both bring a greater likelihood of diagnosis. Recently, medical guidelines have been revised to use a more conservative approach when hormone therapy is called for.
  • If you had your first child after 30 or haven’t ever given birth, you are more likely to be diagnosed.
  • Previous cancers such as breast, endometrial, colon or colorectal cancer can bring about recurrence of cancer in your ovaries.
  • Obesity increases risk by about 80 percent and could make it more difficult to recognize early symptoms for what they are.
  • You experience menopause after age 50.
  • You’ve never taken oral contraceptives.

Conversely you are less likely to develop ovarian cancer if you have had a gynecologic surgery such as a tubal ligation or a hysterectomy.

If you have had a child or children before the age of 30 you are less likely to get the disease. Pregnancy and breastfeeding are a good combination to decrease risk.

According to the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, the most effective means of reducing risk is prophylactic oophorectomy (removal of ovaries.)

Family cancer clinics offer women ovary removal, to prevent disease in those with a lifespan risk of 10 percent or greater.

Pay attention to your body

The most effective means of coming out ahead no matter your scenario is by early detection. This is difficult but not impossible.

It is only difficult because the symptoms mimic other illnesses and diseases, and may at first seem like ‘nothing.’ The good thing is that most women do have symptoms, and so have something to go on.

The symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal bloating, discomfort or pain
  • Increased or urgent need to urinate
  • Difficulty eating in that you feel full quickly
  • Pelvic pain
  • Abnormal bleeding

In order to find out if your symptoms mean something or not, you should tell your doctor your symptoms and ask for tests.

What to Expect

According to the Mayo Clinic, he or she will start with a pelvic examination where a speculum may be inserted into the vagina. It allows the doctor to see possible abnormalities.

Your doctor may recommend imaging tests to see the shapes of your ovaries. There are also potential blood tests and finally surgery to obtain a tissue sample and abdominal fluid to confirm diagnosis.

Seeking medical care

Unfortunately, most women either wait too long to see a doctor or just don’t get diagnosed before they find themselves at an advanced stage of disease.

The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance gives important advice on medical care:

Many studies conducted over the past decade have shown that an ovarian cancer patient’s chance of survival is significantly improved when a gynecologic oncologist performs her surgery. Some studies showed survival rates as much as 50 percent greater, compared to women whose surgeries were done by surgeons less experienced in the techniques used to treat ovarian cancer.

Some women don’t have access to any specialty care, and become a silent, dire statistic. Researchers used the National Cancer database (NCDB) to find that elderly women are at a high risk for deficient surgical treatment, if any. 23 percent got no treatment at all. (Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, June 2016)

This is important information for those working with the elderly and for those in a position to improve their medical care.

In addition, it is important to consider that the negative statistical outcome of this disease is affected by medically underserved populations.

Research looks promising

The rate of diagnosis has been slowing down over the last 20 years. There are many studies and research panels being conducted.

Tumor DNA fragments discovered by researchers could help predict ovarian cancer outcomes. Tumor size and progression could be predicted more accurately with a blood test. They plan to conduct a larger study to confirm results. (UK’s Cambridge Institute cancer research)

Scientists now know of 30 genetic variations (risk variants) which they believe are just a small portion of the inherited component of this disease.

The University of Cambridge in Nature Genetics 2017 published the discovery of 12 new genetic variants for ovarian cancer. This was accomplished in a study with 100,000 people, including 17,000 patients with a common ovarian cancer.

New advances in surgery are being made also. A new imaging technique is being developed which allows surgeons to get a much-improved visual on tumors when removing them. It uses a fluorescent compound that results in 30 percent more tumor removal.

This technical frontier was published in a small study by the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

With increasingly accurate tumor removal, survival rates will likely increase.

These studies help develop more on point treatments and detection methods.

There are success stories

Treatments should be complemented with emotional support. Support groups can be helpful for providing an outlet and creating support.

Online forums can be informative and help people feel they aren’t alone also. It is important to remember though that there are success stories out there that at times can’t be found in these places.

These success stories are important to remember because hope is so important for recovery. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) says that supportive care helps decrease chemotherapy side effect intensity.

Advocating a positive, hopeful approach has been beneficial to many patients. The CTCA integrate western medicine with a positive, nurturing bedside manner, and alternative methods of care, which hits home for many women.

Patients can choose to take part in massage, physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture, mind-body therapy, and nutrition therapy.

These therapies complement other treatments and create a holistic approach which is implemented because it’s effective.

It is also important to remember that some success stories involve remission and recovery. It is good to be mentally prepared for the possibility of this and to know you can come out on the other side of it.

Knowing you can come out alright is huge for your quality of life and for the future of your health.