What Is Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is a malignant tumor that develops in a woman’s ovaries. Ovarian cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death among women. It most often occurs in women in their 50s and beyond.
When found in its earliest stages, ovarian cancer can be cured 90 to 95 percent of the time. Unfortunately, early ovarian cancer is hard to detect. Many cases of ovarian cancer are found after the cancer has spread to other organs. In these cases, the cancer is much more difficult to treat and cure.
Took Hrt For Menopausal Symptoms Before Her Diagnosis But Was Taken Off It And Her Symptoms
Women who could not, or chose not to take HRT often tried to relieve their menopausal symptoms with complementary therapies, such as evening primrose oil, sage, vitamins and food supplements. As well as using a herbal remedy one woman tried to reduce the severity of her hot flushes by consuming cooling foods and drinks.
For more experience of the menopause see our ‘Menopause‘ website.
Last reviewed June 2016.
Outlook For Ovarian Cancer
The earlier ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of a cure.
But often it’s not recognised until it’s already spread and a cure is not possible.
Even after successful treatment, there’s a high chance the cancer will come back within the next few years.
If it does come back, it cannot usually be cured. But chemotherapy may help reduce the symptoms and keep the cancer under control for several months or years.
Overall, around half of women with ovarian cancer will live for at least 5 years after diagnosis, and about 1 in 3 will live at least 10 years.
Cancer Research UK has more information about the survival statistics for ovarian cancer.
Page last reviewed: 10 February 2020 Next review due: 10 February 2023
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Womens Health Initiative Study
The study found that women taking HRT have a higher risk of these conditions:
However, the study showed that these women had a lower risk of colorectal cancer and bone fractures.
Meanwhile, other research suggests that HRT may increase the risk of dying from non-small cell lung cancer.
Taking Charge: Who Gets Ovarian Cancer
Scientists have found that certain risk factors increase a woman’s chance of developing the most common type of ovarian cancer, epithelial ovarian carcinoma, although in most cases this increased risk is very small. Most ovarian cancer cannot be explained by any known risk factors. More research in this area is needed to help determine why some women develop the disease and others do not.
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When To See A Gp
See a GP if:
- you have been feeling bloated, particularly more than 12 times a month
- you have other symptoms of ovarian cancer that will not go away
- you have a family history of ovarian cancer and are worried you may be at a higher risk of getting it
It’s unlikely you have cancer, but it’s best to check. A GP can do some simple tests to see if you have it.
If you have already seen a GP and your symptoms continue or get worse, go back to them and explain this.
If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, a GP may refer you to a genetics specialist to discuss the option of genetic testing to check your ovarian cancer risk.
Combined Hormone Therapy And Cancer Risk
Combined hormone therapy may help relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and osteoporosis. Combined hormone therapy is also called postmenopausal hormone therapy or hormone replacement therapy .
HRT is a combination of estrogen and progestin. Progestin is a form of progesterone made in a laboratory.
The National Institutes of Health conducts the Womens Health Initiative study. This study has found that HRT increases the risk of certain conditions.
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Treatment Options And Their Effectiveness
For decades, women approaching and experiencing menopause have been advised by their doctors and urged by extensive advertising campaigns to use hormone therapy to treat symptoms, like hot flashes and vaginal dryness, and to ward off age-related illness and conditions, like heart disease and wrinkles. With the release of results from the Women’s Health Initiative , women learned that although hormone therapy is effective for treating menopause symptoms, most of the other claims made for the drugs were not supported by the evidence and serious health risks of menopause hormone therapy exist.
Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system and is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancer in the US. Before the WHI the concerns about ovarian cancer were based mostly on associations observed in women taking hormones. The results of this trial also show a possible connection, but still no definitive answer. These results are significant because they are the first from a large randomized trial of healthy women.
First: What Is Ovarian Cancer
The ovaries are made up of three different types of cells: epithelial cells, germ cells, and stromal cellsall of which can develop into a cancerous tumor. However, in the earliest stages of ovarian cancer, the cells exist on a microscopic level, so its very difficult to catch.
Recognizing the symptoms of ovarian cancer can lead to a diagnosis in an earlier, more curable stage. The most important thing, according to Rebecca Brightman, MD, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at Mount Sinai, is listening to your body. Women, in general, know whats normal for them, she tells Health. And that, for me, is one of the more helpful things in my practice. If someone comes in saying, this is not normal, there is a change, then that person needs to be evaluated.
Its important to listen to your body and go to the doctor if you do notice something abnormal, because most ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed in the later stages. About one in five women that have ovarian cancer, by rule of thumb, right now, will be diagnosed at an early stage, Mary Rosser, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics & gynecology at Columbia Medical School, tells Health. The benefit of being diagnosed early is that you have survival, because youll have earlier, better treatment.
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The Ovaries And Fertility
Women are able to have children between puberty and the menopause . The age when periods start and stop varies a great deal.
In the middle of each menstrual cycle , one of the ovaries releases an egg. It travels down the fallopian tube to the womb. The lining of the womb gets thicker and thicker, ready to receive a fertilised egg. If the egg is not fertilised by sperm, the thickened lining of the womb is shed as a period. Then the whole cycle begins again.
Ovarian Cancer Under The Spotlight
Each year more than 1200 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The main risk factor for ovarian cancer is getting older. Over 80 per cent of women diagnosed are over 50 years of age but ovarian cancer can occur at any age.
Ovarian cancer can be difficult to diagnose at an early stage, largely because symptoms can be vague and similar to those of other common illnesses.
But most women diagnosed with the disease experience symptoms, it is simply that they do not link them to cancer.
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When Menopause Masks Ovarian Cancer Vital Treatment Gets Delayed
The following article is provided by The Clearity Foundation to support women with ovarian cancer and their families. Learn more about The Clearity Foundation and the services we provide directly to women as they make treatment decisions and navigate emotional impacts of their diagnosis.
Nine months thats how long Shradha Gupta, 51, waited for an ovarian cancer diagnosis.
I had a terrible pain in the pelvic region, felt bloated all the time, but the gynecologist kept asking me to wait a few months, as my period had stopped as well, to confirm if it was because of menopause, says Gupta. If my doctors and I had been more aware of the symptoms, that something as simple as constantly being bloated could be a tell-tale sign of ovarian cancer, it couldve been caught sooner.
Ovarian cancer has the unfortunate reputation of being known as a silent killer. Its symptoms are so subtle, they are often waved away as menopause, since both are most common among the same group: women over 50.
Both are characterized by bloating, pain in the pelvic or abdominal region, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and a frequent need to urinate. Occasionally there can be other symptoms of ovarian cancer, such as changes in bowel habits, extreme fatigue or unexplained weight loss or gain again all menopause symptoms. Sometimes, Irritable Bowel Syndrome is diagnosed.
This article was published by The Swaddle.
How Does Menopause Affect Cancer Risk
Our expert answers some common questions about the link betweenmenopause and a woman’s cancer risk.
Menopause often brings more than physical changes. It also may bring uncertainty about cancer risks and cancer prevention.
We spoke with Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Andersons Cancer Prevention Center, about menopause and cancer.
How does menopause affect a womans cancer risk?
Menopause does not cause cancer. But your risk of developing cancer increases as you age. So women going through menopause have a greater chance of developing cancer because theyre older.
How does the age at which a woman starts menopause affect her cancer risk?
Starting menopause after age 55 increases a womans risk of breast cancer and endometrial cancer. Thats probably because shes been exposed to more estrogen. During a womans menstrual cycle, estrogen stimulates the uterus and breast tissue. So the more menstrual periods a woman has, the longer these tissues are exposed to estrogen.
Women who start menopause later also may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer, possibly because they have had more ovulations.
Some women receive hormone therapy to cope with menopause symptoms. How safe is HT?
Some studies also suggest that using HT after menopause may slightly increase ovarian cancer risk. Generally, the longer you use hormone therapy, the more your cancer risk appears to increase.
What are some safer HRT alternatives that you recommend?
What Causes Ovarian Cancer
The cause of ovarian cancer is not yet known. You have an increased risk of ovarian cancer if you:
- Have a family history of ovarian cancer
- Have never been pregnant
- Are over the age of 50, since the likelihood of developing ovarian cancer increases as you age
- Carrying the BRACA gene
Studies show that women who have had children, who breastfeed or who use hormonal contraceptives are less likely to develop ovarian cancer. These factors decrease the number of times a woman ovulates, and studies suggest that reducing the number of ovulations during a woman’s lifetime may lower the risk of ovarian cancer.
Menopause itself does not cause ovarian cancer. Menopausal hormone therapy does not cause ovarian cancer.
The Most Common Types Of Ovarian Cancer
- Epithelial tumours come from epithelial cells that line the surface of the ovaries. They represent more than 90% of malignant neoplasms of the ovary.
- Germ cell tumoursare benign or malignant neoplasms derived from germ cells, which give rise to sperm and eggs.
- Stromal tumours are about 7% of ovarian tumours, which originate from the supportive tissue of the ovary, which produces estrogen and progesterone.
Other Studies Of Hormone Therapy And Ovarian Cancer
In many observational studies which have followed women who choose to take hormones and compared them with women who do not, hormone use at menopause has been associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. A 2007 analysis that pulled together results from previous studies found this to be true for both women taking estrogen-alone and those taking an estrogen-plus-progestin combination. Even though the risk to an individual woman might be low, because these drugs are widely used, the increased risk translates into thousands of affected women. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Million Womens Study Collaborators have attributed use of HRT to 1300 additional ovarian cancers and 1000 additional deaths from the malignancy since 1991 in the UK.
Increased Duration of Use Increases Risk of Ovarian Cancer
Cancer Screening Recommendations For Midlife Women
Getting tests that screen for cancer is important for menopausal women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists makes the following recommendations for breast cancer:
- Average-risk women should be offered a screening mammogram starting at age 40 and no later than age 50.
- Average-risk women should have a screening mammogram every one or two years.
- Average-risk women should continue mammography screening until at least age 75.
The group adds that these screening guidelines should be followed based on a shared decision-making process between women and their doctors.
Pelvic exams and routine screening for ovarian cancer have limited ability to pick up ovarian cancer, says Pinkerton. However, if a woman has new persistent abdominal pain, abdominal distention, persistent change in feeling full after eating bloated or a change in bladder or bowel symptoms, we recommend additional evaluation, including pelvic ultrasound and a blood test for cancer antigen 125.
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Entered The Menopause As A Result Of Her Treatment And Reflects That She Probably Did Have Mood
Women whose menopause started during chemotherapy found it difficult to distinguish between symptoms of the menopause and side effects of the treatment. One woman’s menopause didn’t start until a year after her surgery and several others experienced no symptoms at all. Some women were glad that their periods had finished, but one missed them because her life had revolved around them for so many years.
Younger women whose menopause started as a result of surgery were often offered hormone replacement therapy because the potential health benefits were considered to outweigh the risks. HRT succeeded in preventing or relieving menopausal symptoms in most of the women who took it, but a few experienced unpleasant side effects and changed to a different type of HRT. One stopped taking it because it didn’t seem to be working and two others stopped because they did not want to increase their risk of getting breast cancer.
Most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will have already been through, or started, the menopause. Older women who had been taking HRT for menopausal symptoms before their diagnosis were often taken off it because it increases the risk of developing breast cancer, and in some the menopausal symptoms returned. A few older women continued to take HRT after their diagnosis because of severe menopausal symptoms or to reduce symptoms of osteoporosis.
Can Cancer Symptoms Be Mistaken As Symptoms Of Menopause
It is important to recognize that some of the symptoms of menopause can mimic the symptoms of gynecologic cancers, which are cancers that start in the female reproductive organs. The 3 most common gynecologic cancers are uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and cervical cancer. Being aware of the similarities and differences in symptoms is critical so that concerning, or red flag, symptoms of a potential underlying cancer are not ignored or misidentified as symptoms of menopause.
Uterine and ovarian cancers are more common in postmenopausal women. The most common symptom of uterine cancer is abnormal uterine bleeding, which occurs in 75% to 90% of people with this type of cancer. It can be hard to distinguish between abnormal bleeding and a regular menstrual period, especially during the menopausal transition. However, in people older than 45, some concerning clues will include bleeding between menstrual cycles, frequent bleeding, and heavy or prolonged bleeding. The average age at diagnosis of uterine cancer in the United States is 60, and it is uncommon in women younger than 45.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer include abdominal swelling or bloating, nausea, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and shortness of breath. About half of people who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States are 63 or older. However, ovarian cancer may occur at a younger age in people with a hereditary ovarian cancer syndrome.
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How Can I Protect Myself From Ovarian Cancer
It’s difficult for a woman to protect herself from ovarian cancer. Here are a few steps you can take to lessen your risk:
- Get a yearly pelvic exam.
- Report any irregular vaginal bleeding or abdominal pain to your doctor.
- If you have close family members with ovarian cancer, discuss your risk factors with your doctor.
- Don’t use excessive talcum powder on or near the vagina.
- Eat a low-fat diet.
- Talk to your doctor about the extended use of hormonal contraception to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Women with the BRACA gene and/or a strong family history of breast/ovarian cancer might also consider ovary removal after completing their family.
Why Ovarian Cancer Symptoms Are Easily Missed
Publish Date: 09/27/2016
Dr. Liotta specializes in the treatment and research of gynecological cancers, including ovarian, cervical, uterine and vulva cancers. Here she answers frequently asked questions about ovarian cancer.
How common is ovarian cancer and who gets it?
Ovarian cancer makes up about 3% of all cancers among women.
It most frequently develops after menopause, and half of ovarian cancers are diagnosed in women age 63 years or older.
Women of all ages are at risk of developing ovarian cancer, but it is rare among women younger than 40. The cause of ovarian cancer is not known but age and the lifetime frequency of ovulation are the most common risk factors.
Ovarian cancer most frequently develops in women 55 to 64 years old and in women who began menstruating before age 12 or reached menopause after age 50. Higher risk also is associated with:
- Inherited gene mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2
- Taking estrogen without progesterone for 10 or more years
What are the symptoms?
Ovarian cancer is called a silent disease because symptoms are absent or unrecognized.
It does produce symptoms, but the symptoms may be vague and can be caused by more common, less serious conditions.
Pay attention to these symptoms:
How do I reduce my risk?
Most ovarian cancers just happen with no known cause with about 10% being genetically linked. If you know you have a genetic risk or family history, work with your doctor to find the best options for prevention.
How curable is it?
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