Ovarian Cancer

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Ovarian cancer is a pathology that presents as the second most common gynecological cancer in the United States, after corpus and uterine cancer. It has an incidence (new cases reported) of 2.5% of cancer cases in women, with a mortality rate of 2.3% of all cancer cases. There are 300,000 new cases of ovarian cancer worldwide each year, and the numbers keep rising each year. 

Are There Different Types?

There are three types of ovarian cancer: 

  • Epithelial: Where tumors form on the epithelium - the thin layer of tissue that covers the ovary. This type of ovarian cancer accounts for 90% of cases.

  • Germ Cell: Where tumors form on the cells that produce eggs. 

  • Stromal: Also produces tumors, but in the tissue where the female hormones are produced. 

What Are The Risk Factors?

Below are the most common risk factors for developing ovarian cancer:

  • If you are a woman over 40 years old. Any woman can have ovarian cancer, but older women have a higher probability. Approximately 90% of patients with ovarian cancer are older than 50. 

  • Family history of ovarian cancer. Usually in mother, sister, or maternal or paternal grandmother. Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 are also responsible for most inherited ovarian cancers.

  • History of breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer.

  • Not having had children or having problems getting pregnant.

  • History of endometriosis (a disease in which the tissue of the lining of the uterus grows in another part of the body).

If someone has one or more of these factors, it does not necessarily mean that they will develop ovarian cancer. But it is important to consult a doctor to determine your level of risk.

What Are The Symptoms?

Ovarian cancer is a silent killer. Symptoms are initially unnoticeable or mistaken for other diseases such as colitis. When the symptoms become evident, the cancer is usually in an advanced stage.

Symptoms include vaginal bleeding, pain in the pelvic or abdominal region, intestinal inflammation, pain in the back, difficulty eating or feeling full after eating, changes in bathroom habits, such as urinary urgency or constipation, increase or loss of weight, and/or lack of energy.

Symptoms are not the same for everyone, so if you notice any changes or symptoms, you should see your doctor and make sure to go to your annual check up. Your doctor might recommend a transvaginal ultrasound to assess the condition of your ovaries.

How Is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?

 The test for ovarian cancer consists of a complete physical examination in which they do a pap smear, one or more ultrasounds, CT scans, blood tests that detect tumor markers (such as CA-125, which can be elevated if there is ovarian cancer), and a biopsy if any abnormal tissue is detected.

Does Ovarian Cancer Have A Cure?

There are different types of treatments depending on the severity and type of ovarian cancer. Surgery is the recommended treatment in most women - in some cases, the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes are also removed. If the cancer has spread, the surgeon may need to remove pelvic and para-aortic nodes to remove as much cancer as possible, afterward, the patient should undergo chemotherapy or radiation.

 The key to surviving ovarian cancer is early detection. Currently, the survival rate one year after diagnosis is 75%, five years after is 45%, and ten years after is 36%. The longer you wait to get diagnosed, the more likely you are to develop a more advanced stage of ovarian cancer, and this lowers your chances of survival.

 Remember to go to your gynecologist for your regular checkups, and make an appointment right away if you experience any unusual symptoms.