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Ovarian Cancer

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Ovarian Cancer: The Caregiver's Role
By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 5)

The American Cancer Society reports that ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer among women today. About three percent 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 one 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 – 90 percent 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 account for about five percent of ovarian cancer cases today. Stromal cells produce the estrogen and progesterone and account for the remaining five to ten percent 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 one and two cancers have much better survival rates than do stage three and four. The American Cancer Society notes that about 76 percent of women survive one year after diagnosis and the survival rate drops to 45 percent 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 percent, yet fewer than 20 percent 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.


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