UC HEALTH LINE: Early Detection Key to Beating Ovarian Cancer
University of Cincinnati gynecological oncologists say that acknowledging early warning signs of ovarian cancer is key to surviving the disease that claims nearly 17,000 lives each year.
Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer in women, and more than 22,000 new cases will be diagnosed in 2005, according to the American Cancer Society.
The ovaries, two small, almond-shaped organs located in the female pelvis, produce the hormones that regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle and eggs for fertilization. Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells in one or both ovaries begin growing uncontrollably.
“Ovarian cancer is extremely difficult to detect at early stages and can quickly spread to surrounding organs if it goes untreated,” said Nader Husseinzadeh, MD, a professor in the Division of Gynecological Oncology at UC. “It’s critical that women see a doctor when they have abnormal physical symptoms—especially women who have gone through menopause and started bleeding again.”
Researchers believe that genetics plays a major role in the development of ovarian cancer: 5 to 10 percent of all patients have a genetic link to the disease.
Dr. Husseinzadeh and his colleagues recommend the following steps for prevention and early detection of ovarian cancer:
Understand your risk factors.
Women who have a family history of certain cancers—breast, uterine, ovarian and colon—or who experience infertility, long-term uninterrupted ovulation, early menstruation or late menopause are considered most at risk. Women living in industrialized countries who are exposed to chemical carcinogens are also at higher risk.
Research has shown that breast-feeding and oral contraceptives—both of which delay ovulation—may lower the risk of ovarian cancer.
Have regular women’s health exams.
Regardless of risk factors, women should undergo an annual rectal and pelvic exam to find any abnormal growths. If the physician detects a change in ovary size or shape, he will recommend a blood test or vaginal ultrasound examination to determine the extent of the abnormality.
Know the symptoms of the disease.
Because the disease has very few early symptoms and there are no reliable screening techniques, more than 75 percent of ovarian cancer cases are not diagnosed until they are in advanced stages. Pelvic ultrasound and tumor marker blood tests are the only ways to detect ovarian cancer early.
Women should consult a physician immediately if they experience persistent abdominal or pelvic pain, lower-back discomfort, decreased energy levels, changes in bowel and bladder habits, lack of appetite, persistent abdominal bloating or pain during intercourse.
Choose a healthy lifestyle.
Ways to eliminate excess estrogen production and possibly lower your risk for developing ovarian cancer include maintaining a diet low in animal fats and free of pesticides, taking multivitamins and antioxidants for improved liver function—the liver processes excess estrogen—and exercising daily.
Dr. Husseinzadeh, principal investigator on more than 30 gynecological oncology clinical trials at UC, is a full member of the Gynecologic Oncology Group, a national nonprofit cancer research group sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. He is one of nearly 150 UC experts who answer health-related questions from consumers on NetWellness, a collaborative health-information Web site staffed by Ohio physicians, nurses and allied health professionals. For more information, visit www.netwellness.org.
UC Health Line contains timely health information and is distributed every Tuesday by the UC Academic Health Center Public Relations and Communications Office.