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Ovarian Cancer: Early Detection is Key
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Ovarian Cancer affects one in 70 women.
It kills 14,000 women in the U.S. each year, and while considered relatively rare has a low rate of survival. It was previously called the “Silent Killer” because most women are not diagnosed until the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage that no longer responds well to treatment.
Late detection happened primarily because the ovaries are embedded deep in the body, tumors emerging in that organ are difficult to detect, either by physical examination or even by more sophisticated molecular methods.
The good news is that early detection is becoming a little easier and when the disease is caught early the 5 year survival rate raises 30% to 90%. The Key seems to be constant vigilance by women and their doctors.
Last year physicians from MD Anderson began tracing healthy women through annual blood tests for CA125 level changes in blood work. Rising levels of CA125 are known to be associated with ovarian tumor growth. Unfortunately, even this test is inconclusive on its own because levels can change due to benign conditions such as pregnancy, endometriosis and fibroids. Tracking changes annually has become one way to sort out women who should be more closely screened for ovarian cancer along with family histories of cancer and previous cancers in different locations
Northwestern Memorial announced recently that added to doctor vigilance patients can participate by tracking a specific set of symptoms associated with Ovarian Cancer.
"The best scenario would be to prevent this cancer entirely but until that day comes women need to focus on good health behaviors, listen to their bodies and know their family history" according to Diljeet Singh, MD, gynecological oncologist and co-director of the Ovarian Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Early warning signs which include:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
- Increased abdominal size (pants getting tighter around waist)
Although it is unclear what causes ovarian cancer factors that increase the odds of developing the disease include carrying a mutation of the BRCA gene, having a personal history of breast cancer or a family history of ovarian cancer, being over the age of 45 or if a woman is obese. Doctors recommend screenings for women with these factors begin at age 20 to 25, or five to 10 years earlier than the youngest age of diagnosis in the family. In addition, there are genetic tests available that can identify women who are at a substantially increased risk.
Women at higher risk categories many choose to make medical and lifestyle decisions which can improve their odds of avoiding Ovarian Cancer. Those who use birth control pills for five years or more are three-times less likely to develop ovarian cancer. Also permanent forms of birth control such as tubal ligation have been found to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by 50 percent. In cases where women have an extensive family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or who carry altered versions of the BRCA genes, may receive a recommendation to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes. While clearly a radical option this lowers the risk of ovarian cancer by more than 95 percent.
"Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, getting regular exercise, maintaining a normal body weight and managing stresses are all ways women can help decrease their risk of ovarian cancer," added Singh.
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