According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 22,500 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2019. Mostly observed in older women, this female reproductive system cancer has been usually diagnosed in women who are 63 years or older.
Despite alarming statistics, it has been observed that the rate of diagnosis of ovarian cancer has been on a steady decline over the last 20 years. This has been mostly due to advanced research that has led to very efficient ways to detect high-risk genes. Moreover, the diagnosis has become easier with effective ovarian cancer screening tests in place.
Ovarian cancer screening
With early detection of ovarian cancer, it is possible for nearly 94% of the patients to live longer than 5 years, post-diagnosis. There are multiple ways to find ovarian cancer as early as possible:
- Pelvic exam
During this exam, a physician will check the uterus and ovaries for shape, size, and consistency. Pelvic exam has been found to be quite useful in the early detection of certain female cancers. However, it has been observed that pelvic exams are rarely successful in early detection of ovarian cancer.
- Pap test
Pap test can be done for ovarian cancer. However, it does not detect the tumors until cancer reaches an advanced stage. But this test is quite effective in the early detection of cervical cancer.
- Transvaginal ultrasound
Transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) is an ovarian screening test that uses sound waves. An ultrasound wand is put inside the vagina. The sound waves look for the presence of a tumor in the ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes. However, this test cannot detect the difference between cancerous tumors and benign tumors.
- CA-125 blood test
It has been observed that many women with ovarian cancer have high levels of a protein known as CA-125. A CA-blood test can be helpful tumor marker to check for ovarian cancer. However, it is not foolproof. This is because women with pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, and other such conditions also tend to have high levels of CA-125 in their blood. Moreover, CA-125 levels are not always high in every case of ovarian cancer.
If any of the above screen tests suggest the presence of ovarian cancer, a specialist may recommend other tests such as CT scans, Barium enema x-ray, MRI scans, PET scans, or even biopsy. Once it has been ascertained that ovarian cancer tumor is present, a line of treatment is started.
Ovarian Cancer treatments
The treatments are based on the stage and type of ovarian cancer and the general health of the patients. The usual treatment options include the following:
- Surgery: With surgery, both the ovaries, fallopian tubes, womb, and a layer of fatty tissue in the tummy is removed depending on how far cancer has spread. This is usually the main treatment method.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy kills off cancer cells with medication. This is often done along with surgery. Chemotherapy can be done prior to surgery to shrink cancer-making removal easy. It can be also done after surgery to remove residual cancer cells. In some cases, chemotherapy is required is cancer comes back after the first treatment.
- Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy is similar to chemotherapy. It is usually used prior to surgery or after. A carefully directed beam of radiation is used to kill off the cancer cells. This treatment is not often used for treating ovarian cancer.
- Clinical trials: With advanced research, a number of newer and better ovarian cancer treatments are being tested out through clinical trials. An ovarian cancer patient may choose to participate in a trial after consulting their care team. Clinical trials do not guarantee that the new treatment will be effective.