Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian Cancer is less common than many other types of cancer. However, ovarian cancer tends to be diagnosed in advanced stages like stage III or IV.

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Statistics for Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is less common than many other types of cancer. However, ovarian cancer tends to be diagnosed in advanced stages like stage III or IV.

Ovarian cancer affects about 22,000 people per year in the United States, with about 14,000 deaths each year. The incidence and death rate have remained unchanged for nearly the past 100 years for which we have data.

Ovarian cancer is relatively rare, with the lifetime risk of about 1.3-1.5% (overall 1 in 70 lifetime risk).

Cancers which are more common annually in the United States than ovarian include:

CancerAnnual Diagnoses
Breast276,000
GI (Colon, Rectal, and other GI tract cancers)146,000
Lung116,000
GU (Cancers of the Bladder and Kidneys)48,000
Skin43,000
Leukemia25,000
Ovarian Cancer22,000

Ovarian cancer, in some cases, is more difficult to detect and treat with ovarian cancer incidence only involving about 22,000 people each year in the United States.

Signs and Symptoms

Ovarian cancer tends to present with abdominal or gastrointestinal (also called G.I.) symptoms. Women are most commonly diagnosed for ovarian cancer in their 60s.

Vague symptoms are more common, such as:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal distension
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Urinary frequency
  • Early satiety (feeling full after a few bites of food)

It is important to remember that, even though ovarian cancer is more common after menopause, many cases do occur in younger women as well.

Screening for Ovarian Cancer

A “screening test” can be applied to the general population to detect cancers in the early stages. There are screening tests for many kinds of cancers, such as pap smears for cervical cancer, mammograms for breast cancer, and colonoscopies for colon cancer. For healthy, asymptomatic women, there is no screening test for ovarian cancer.

Testing and Diagnosis for Ovarian Cancer

When ovarian cancer is suspected, generally an ultrasound is ordered. The ultrasound may show an ovarian mass and fluid (called “ascites”) as well.

In about 80% of cases, a blood test called a Ca-125 will be elevated. Importantly, Ultrasound and Ca-125 are NOT screening tests for ovarian cancer. In fact, Ultrasound and Ca-125 have been studied as potential screening tests in the general population. They have been proven to be NOT effective in diagnosing ovarian cancer early and are not recommended to be performed on the general population of healthy asymptomatic women.

If an ovarian mass is discovered either on pelvic exam or diagnostic X-ray imaging, then a referral to a Gynecologic Oncologist is made. The next step is generally more diagnostic tests such as blood work, X-ray studies, and possibly diagnostic surgery such as a laparoscopy.

In some cases, more extensive debulking (surgery to remove all or most of the cancer) surgery would be the next step. In some cases, chemotherapy may be indicated prior to debulking surgery.

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