May 8th is World Ovarian Cancer Day. Ovarian cancer is the 7th most common cancer and the 8th deadliest cancer in women globally. Catching the disease early is the key to successful treatment, and the best way to do that is to understand the common symptoms and risk factors.
Different Types of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer impacts the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the primary peritoneal cavity. There are over 30 different varieties, but the primary types of ovarian cancer tumors are categorized by the type of cell they originate from. They are:
- Epithelial ovarian cancer – The most common ovarian cancer.
- Germ cell ovarian cancer – A rare form of ovarian cancer that comes from the ovaries’ reproductive cells.
- Stromal cells ovarian cancer – A rare type of ovarian cancer that comes from connective tissue cells.
- Small cell carcinoma of the ovary (SCCO) – An extremely rare type of ovarian cancer that is highly malignant. It typically occurs in younger women.
The Challenges of Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed too late because the condition’s warning signs are often confused as something else. The following are early symptoms:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Unexplained fatigue
- Lack of appetite
These symptoms are also typical in conditions related to gastrointestinal issues or bowel problems. Ovarian cancer is often misdiagnosed as a pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, or endometriosis.
There are also many myths and misconceptions surrounding ovarian cancer. One of the main misunderstandings is that you can detect it by getting regular pap smear screenings. While pap smears are important for routine healthcare, the exam screens primarily for cervical cancer.
Research for developing screening tests for ovarian cancer is ongoing. Currently, the two tests most often used to screen for ovarian cancer are transvaginal ultrasound and the CA-125 blood test. The transvaginal ultrasound uses sound waves to locate masses or tumors in the ovary, fallopian tubes, and uterus. The CA-125 blood test measures CA-125 protein in the blood, which women with ovarian cancer have high levels of.
Am I at risk?
All women are at risk of ovarian cancer. However, there are certain factors that increase a woman’s chances of developing the condition, including:
Age – Ovarian cancer is more common in women between ages 50 and 79. However, younger women can get ovarian cancer.
Family history – The risk of ovarian cancer increases if you have a family history of ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, colorectal cancer, or breast cancer.
Reproductive history – Studies have shown that women who don’t have children or have delayed childbearing increase their risk of ovarian cancer. Women who have delivered at least one child before the age of 30 have been observed to have a lower risk of developing the condition. Furthermore, the risk for the disease declines when mothers breastfeed.
Genetic mutations and disorders – Certain genetic mutations, such as mutations in the BRCA genes, increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Inherited genetic diseases like Lynch syndrome and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome have also been associated with an increased risk of polyps in the gynecologic tract.
To learn more about ovarian cancer, contact Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology. At Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology, more than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.