Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cancer killer of women, according to the American Cancer Society. This is because ovarian cancer is usually detected when it has spread beyond the ovary, at an advanced stage. Early detection is difficult because there are no early signs, no specific symptoms and no currently available screening test.
At St. Luke’s Cancer Center, women with ovarian cancer are offered options that may maximize their survival while maintaining desired quality of life. Advanced ovarian cancer is best treated with a combination of aggressive surgery to remove as much cancer as possible followed by chemotherapy. Sometimes chemotherapy is given before surgery.
Many times, women with ovarian cancer have no symptoms or just mild symptoms until the disease has reached an advanced stage. The lack of a reliable screening test puts women at a disadvantage for finding ovarian cancer early, before the disease has progressed.
When ovarian cancer symptoms do present, they may resemble those of intestinal flu. When combined with other symptoms, like abdominal bloating, fatigue and a heavy feeling in the pelvic area, a thorough evaluation is in order.
Ovarian cancer symptoms can be mild and may not present immediately. Signs may include:
- Sense of pelvic heaviness
- Vague lower abdominal discomfort
- Vaginal bleeding
- Weight gain or loss
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Unexplained back pain that worsens over time
- Increased abdominal girth
- Increased gas
- Lack of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty eating usual volumes of food
Some risk factors may include:
- Age: two-thirds of women who develop ovarian cancer are over age 55
- Menstruation before age 12
- No children or first child after age 30
- Menopause after age 50
- Prolonged use of the fertility drug clomiphene citrate, especially without achieving pregnancy, may increase the risk
- Family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, or colorectal cancer
- Personal history of breast cancer diagnosed before age 50
A doctor will perform a physical examination, review symptoms with the patient and perform testing for ovarian cancer that can include:
If initial testing indicates the presence of ovarian cancer, treatment may include:
- Intravenous (IV) chemotherapy followed by surgery.
- Aggressive surgery to remove, or debulk, the visible tumor followed by chemotherapy.
- Chemotherapy after surgery can be administered by IV. In some cases, it is recommended to also give chemotherapy directly into the abdomen. This is called intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy.
- Radiation Therapy
- Participation in a clinical trial.
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