Cancer Demystified: What is Ovarian Cancer?

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What is Ovarian Cancer?

Affecting 22,000 American women every year, ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer deaths, with 150,000 deaths from all types of cancer yearly.  Forming in the tissues of the ovary, most ovarian cancers are either ovarian epithelial carcinomas (cancer that begins in the cells on the surface of the ovary) or malignant germ cell tumors (cancer that begins in egg cells).

Many factors increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer: infertility, estrogen use, endometriosis, nulligravida (women who have never been pregnant), and family history.  Factors shown to decrease the risk of ovarian cancer are breast feeding, child bearing at a younger age, and taking oral contraceptives.

The signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are subtle and unspecific.  For example, symptoms of bloating, weight loss, difficulty eating, urinary problems, and pelvic or abdominal pain can often be caused by some other illness.  With ovarian cancer, these symptoms usually persist for months prior to a diagnosis.  Therefore, ovarian cancer is often called the silent cancer.

Treatment for ovarian cancer involves an extensive surgery usually followed by chemotherapy, but the choice of treatment depends largely on the type of cancer and the stage of the disease. Thirty years ago, survival rates were only 10-20%, but today, survival rates are up to 50%.  However, much more research is needed to improve early detection and to increase survival rates for those diagnosed with this disease.