Women's Health

Is Ovarian Cancer Terminal?

Is Ovarian Cancer Terminal?

Let’s answer the question first: It depends on the stage of the disease. There are four stages of ovarian cancer, and the third and fourth are the most dangerous. The bad thing is that most cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed in the later stages of the disease, when little can be done to save the patient’s life.

One of the many cancers affecting women, ovarian cancer symptoms are similar to other common ailments, so symptoms are often ignored or misdiagnosed, therefore leading to being detected much later. In this form of cancer, symptoms tend to last longer and worsen with time. It is important that women keep a check on persisting symptoms and contact the doctor at the right time. Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries and can easily spread to the other parts of the body. In most cases, ovarian cancer develops after menopause. This form of cancer is known to cause more deaths than any other female reproductive cancers.

The most common types of ovarian cancer are:

  1. Epithelial ovarian cancer – 90% of ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed with this type. Epithelial tumors are difficult to diagnose and are typically discovered only after the tumor has grown over a period of time. It begins from the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovary. This form of cancer usually occurs in older women.
  2. Stromal ovarian cancer – It makes up nearly 7% of all ovarian tumors. This type of tumor is usually diagnosed at an early stage. These tumors often begin in the connecting cells that hold the ovaries together and produce female hormones - estrogen and progesterone. 
  3. Germ cell ovarian cancer – This type is very rare, and it’s most common in young teenage girls and women under the age of 30. The tumors start from the cells that produce the ova.

1 in 73 women has a high risk to be diagnosed with some type of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is the 5th most common cancer that can affect the female population. The risk factors for ovarian cancer are the age, inherited genetic mutations (BRCA 1 and BRCA 2), family history of ovarian cancer, family history of breast cancer, hormone therapies, and ethnicity. It has been noticed that younger women with ovarian cancer have a higher survival rate than older women.

Only 15% of the cases of ovarian cancer are discovered in the early stages of the disease.

The stages of ovarian cancer have been broadly classified depending on the location where the cancer cells are present. There are four stages of ovarian cancer:

  1. Stage 1 – When the tumors are discovered on the ovaries (on one or on both) early on
  2. Stage 2 – When ovarian cancer affects the nearest organs in the pelvis. These include organs like the uterus, fallopian tubes, rectum and bladder
  3. Stage 3 – When ovarian cancer affects the ovaries, womb, organs in the pelvic cavity and parts of the organs in the abdomen
  4. Stage 4 – This is the terminal stage of ovarian cancer, when the organs outside the pelvis and abdomen are affected (liver, lungs or spleen). Once the vital organs are affected with cancer, the rate of survival rapidly diminishes

Depending on the type of ovarian cancer, there are a lot of sub-stages. These are the chances for curing and surviving the three most common types of ovarian cancer (based on relative 5-year survival rate).

Epithelial ovarian cancer:

  • Stage 1 – 90%
  • Stage 2 – 70%
  • Stage 3 – 39%
  • Stage 4 – 17%

Stromal ovarian cancer:

  • Stage 1 – 95%
  • Stage 2 – 78%
  • Stage 3 – 65%
  • Stage 4 – 35%

Germ cell ovarian cancer:

  • Stage 1 – 95%
  • Stage 2 – 94%
  • Stage 3 – 87%
  • Stage 4 – 69%

Based on these statistics, we can conclude that the epithelial type of ovarian cancer is the most dangerous. Every patient that is diagnosed with some form of cancer wants to know their odds for surviving, so they can decide what treatment to start. The best chances are those patients will discover the disease in the early stages, when the tumors are based only in the ovaries.Fatality of the illness varies between individuals and also depends on their response to the treatment. It is not easy to give an exact prognosis.

The treatment is also different for every stage of ovarian cancer. In the early stages, the patient can only go to chemotherapy in a few cycles or opt to go for surgery (hysterectomy). There is a great possibility that only one of the ovaries is affected by cancer, so it will be removed, and the healthy one will stay to keep the hormone balance and fertility. Sometimes, the patients may lose their fertility as a result of the drugs and radiation used during the chemotherapy. If both of the ovaries need to be removed, there is no chance for the patient to get pregnant later in the life. In the late stages of ovarian cancer, the survival rates are very low because the tumors can be everywhere in the body (metastasis). In these cases, the doctors can only give the patients painkillers and drugs that will ease their symptoms and pain.

Ovarian cancer is not always fatal; it largely depends on when the cancer was detected and how far it has advanced. The earlier it is detected the higher the survival rate. Unfortunately, for women who have been diagnosed at a later stage the chances of survival may be bleak. However, it doesn’t help feeling disheartened and giving up. In some cases, treatments have been known to aid in not just easing the disease but also slow its progress, therefore lengthening survival. A positive frame of mind is said to do wonders.

Lately it has been observed that women are supplementing their treatment with alternate therapies. Special diets, yoga and meditation, and herbal treatments are rapidly gaining traction. It is important that your doctor be informed while adopting alternate therapies so as to avoid any unexpected mishaps.