Breast cancer may be the most well known female-centered cancer, but ovarian is much more deadly. Learn more here.
Most people are familiar with what the pink ribbon stands for, but not the teal ribbon. The teal ribbon represents ovarian cancer, also known as the silent killer. While ovarian cancer is less common than breast cancer, it is much more deadly.
How Many People Does Ovarian Cancer Affect?
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), nearly 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the year 2011. During the same period, the NCI estimates that over 15,460 women will die of the disease. While these statistics are markedly less than those of breast cancer, when ovarian cancer is found it has usually progressed further. Cancer diagnosis has stages from one to four, indicating how severe the case is. The majority of breast cancers are discovered at stage one or two and the average ovarian cancer diagnosis is made at stage three, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF).
The OCRF reports that only half of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are still alive five years later. This is because ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage. Only 15 percent of diagnoses are made at stage one, though the five-year survival rate when diagnosed this early is over 90 percent.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague. Some common symptoms include problems urinating, feeling full quickly when eating, changes in bowel habits, bleeding from the vagina and persistent abdominal pain, according to the OCRF. If these symptoms are new to you and last for at least two weeks, see a doctor. In women with more advanced cases of ovarian cancer they can also notice swelling of the belly area. Typically if the belly is significantly swollen there is fluid in the abdomen that is cancerous.
There is no common screening test for ovarian cancer, though there are three types of screening done depending on your doctor, history and symptoms. The CA-125 assay is a blood test that checks for cancer markers. This test is used, but has many critics because it is not always consistent. It is helpful if you have a “base line” number to compare to later data. The second type of screening is the typical pelvic exam performed during gynecological checkups. This type of screening will only catch ovarian cancer if it is large enough to feel, which means the chances of catching ovarian cancer at an early stage with this screening are slim. The third screening used is a transvaginal ultrasound. This ultrasound allows the technician to take images of the female pelvis. This type of screening is rarely used for this purpose, however.
Surgery is usually required to remove all involved organs upon diagnosis of ovarian cancer. After surgery and laboratory tests are completed, chemotherapy and radiation are used depending on the doctor’s recommendations. Some of the same chemotherapy drugs used to treat breast cancer are used to treat ovarian cancer. Side effects associated with these treatments are common to many types of cancer including hair loss, nausea and weakness.