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 Cancer

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Ovarian Cancer Basics: Discussing Risks
and Treatment Options
By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer


(Page 1 of 4)

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 United States.

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 Testing:

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.

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