By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer
The American Cancer Society reports that ovarian
cancer is the eighth most common cancer among women today. About 3%
of all cancers in women are some type of ovarian cancer.
Unfortunately, ovarian cancer ranks among fifth in cancer deaths,
primarily due to the fact that it is hard to detect until it has
advanced beyond the ovaries into other areas of the body. Estimates
are that 1 in every 57 women will develop ovarian cancer in the
In the female reproductive system, the ovaries
house the eggs needed for reproduction. There are two ovaries, one
on each side of the uterus where fertilized eggs are implanted
during pregnancy. Another reason for the ovaries importance: they
are the main source of female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
There are three different types of tissues in
the ovaries, each able to produce a different type of ovarian
cancer. By far, the most prevalent type of cancer is found in the
epithelial tissue of the ovaries. Epithelial tissue lines the
outside of the ovaries and is found in about 85 Ė 90% of all ovarian
cancer cases. It can grow undetected and spread rather quickly to
the abdomen and into other parts of the body.Germ cells actually
produce the eggs that are formed inside the ovaries. Germ cell
tumors accounts for about 5% of ovarian cancer cases today. Stromal
cells produce the estrogen and progesterone and account for the
remaining 5 Ė 10% of cancer-causing tumors.
Survival rates for ovarian cancer vary widely
largely depending on the stage of the cancer at the time of
diagnosis. Stage 1 and 2 cancers have much better survival rates
than do stage 3 and 4. The American Cancer Society notes that about
76% of women survive one year after diagnosis and the survival rate
drops to 45% at five years. If doctors can diagnose and treat the
cancer while it is still in the ovaries, the overall survival rate
climbs to 94%, yet fewer than 20% of ovarian cancers are diagnosed
at this early stage.
Risk Factors and
Despite the facts and figures, it is hard to
detect ovarian cancer since most of the time it starts without
detectable symptoms. Women who have a family history of breast
cancer or ovarian cancer should discuss it with their physician so
that early testing can be done before ovarian cancer has a chance to
grow undetected. Generally the cancer strikes women over the age of
50, with women 65 and older most at risk. It has been found in
younger women, however. Women who are overweight or who have used
fertility drugs also have an increased risk of developing the
cancer. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has also been shown to
increase the risk for developing ovarian cancer.
Testing for the cancer isnít that easy either.
While regular pap tests can help screen for certain types of cancer,
it isnít a reliable indicator of ovarian cancer. Usually by the time
a doctor can detect ovarian cancer with a pap smear, the cancer is
already in advanced stages. Regular health exams, however, can help
physicians determine if there are changes in the size of the ovaries
or uterus. Tumors in the ovaries that are still in the early stages
may not be detected early, though.