10 Things About Ovarian Cancer Every Woman Should Know
As one of the leading causes of cancer death in women, ovarian cancer is something every woman should be aware of. Unfortunately, it has one of the lowest cancer survival rates because there aren't any reliable screening tests or treatments out there yet.
Part of the reason for this is that awareness is relatively low compared to other high profile cancers like breast and prostate cancers.
Less awareness means less funding for research efforts, and as a result, we are still using ovarian cancer treatments discovered over a decade ago.
The best defense against ovarian cancer for any woman is to be aware of the disease and be vigilant with your own health. Early diagnosis is key to better survival rates, so the more you know, the better off you are.
Here are ten facts every woman should know about ovarian cancer.
1. A trusted gynecologist can make all the difference
The most important aspect of women's health is to find a specialist you trust. Regular primary care doctors are wonderful, but sometimes they aren't the best experts in the field of women's health. Gynecologists are always staying up to date with the latest research, and are likely more aware of new, important developments relating to serious diseases such as ovarian cancer. And it’s not entirely uncommon to see several gynecologists before finding the right fit.
If you happen to have ovarian cancer, you need to also find a gynecologist who specializes in oncology. These physicians spent many extra years of training learning about gynecologic cancers and how best to treat them. Their experience is best suited to handle an illness as serious as ovarian cancer. When you have a disease with such a high mortality rate, it's best to call in the experts so you give yourself the best fighting chance.
The most likely places to have qualified gynecologic oncologists are at high-volume hospitals. These places are often big-city institutions tied to an academic name. These places have the most cases of all kinds of diseases, so the doctors here often have the most experience. Additionally, these institutions tend to draw people who are more likely to be involved with research, which gives you an additional edge when you're deciding among treatment options.
2. There aren't any screening tests for ovarian cancer
Some people may think that a routine pap smear may also screen for ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, this is completely false. The pap smear only exists to help screen for cervical cancer in the general population. Right now, there isn't a screening test offered to women who are healthy and with average risk. The only test, the CA-125 blood test, and ultrasound test, are only used in people who have symptoms or high risk of getting ovarian cancer. The reason it's not recommended in the general population is that the test can still be positive in the absence of cancer. This is why it’s so important to pay attention to your body.
3. Most people are diagnosed with ovarian cancer at a later stage
Since there are no good screening tests and symptoms can sometimes be vague, are diagnosed in advanced stages when they finally find out they have ovarian cancer. This is why so many people have a low survival rate because once cancer has progressed to other parts of the body, it becomes incredibly difficult to treat. Every woman should be aware of the symptoms that could indicate ovarian cancer, which include early fullness after eating, abdominal bloating, and changes in bathroom frequency.
4. Both surgery and chemotherapy can be needed to treat ovarian cancer
If you get ovarian cancer, usually the treatment calls for a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Sometimes, the surgeon will cut out as much of the tumor as possible before the oncologist tries to kill off the rest with chemo. Other times, big tumors may need chemotherapy or radiation first to reduce the size prior to surgical removal. An oncologist may also decide to do chemotherapy first if someone is very sick and unable to tolerate a major surgery at that time.
Read on for 6 more things every woman should know about ovarian cancer.