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Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need to Know

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need to Know
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September brings with it Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, a rare and often-deadly disease that can strike at any time in a woman’s life.

According to the American Cancer Society, every year almost 22,000 American women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and more than 15,000 die from the disease. Typically, ovarian cancer has a five-year survival rate of 94 percent if found early; however, most women who develop ovarian cancer aren’t diagnosed until the disease has advanced.

CDC statistics reveal that approximately 90 percent of the women who get ovarian cancer are over the age of 40, with the greatest number of ovarian cancers occurring in women aged 60 years or older. But, ovarian cancer can strike a woman at any time in her life, no matter her risk factor or genetic predisposition. In addition to the aforementioned age factor, odds are increased for the following women:

  • Eastern European Jewish background
  • never given birth or had fertility issues
  • diagnosed with endometriosis
  • have a close family member who has had ovarian cancer
  • breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer survivors

Symptoms of ovarian cancer can include the following:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding
  • Pelvic pain or pressure
  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Bloating
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full very quickly
  • Changes in bathroom habits

Currently the CA125 blood test is the only blood test that can detect ovarian cancer. The test looks for cancer antigen-125, which is a protein found at levels in most ovarian cancer cells that are elevated compared to normal cells. Unfortunately the accuracy rate of the CA-125 is only about 50 percent true positive for women in the early Stage I ovarian cancer. The true positive increases for Stage II, III, and IV to about 80 percent.

Recent ovarian cancer research has brought about some hope, however. One study identified a particular antibody that is found in blood and develops an immune system response to a protein called mesothelin. Mesothelin is present in normal tissue but in abundance in advanced ovarian cancer cells. Scientists hope to develop a screening test based on this antibody to better be able to early detect ovarian cancer.

A second study reported findings that may not only be able to detect the onset of ovarian cancer but also target genetic weaknesses in cancer cells. Research found that 96 percent of ovarian cancer tumors they studies to contain mutated TP53 genes. TP53 creates a tumor suppressor protein, stopping cells from growing and dividing uncontrollably. Mutations in the gene disrupt this protein’s function. By identifying this trademark, treatment may, one day, be able to target and destroy cancer cells.

Because ovarian cancer is relatively rare and the benefits of early detection unclear, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a federal expert panel, does not recommend that women be regularly screened for ovarian cancer. For women who have a personal or family history of gynecological cancer, having annual or biennial CA-125 testing done, for comparative analysis, is a suggested option.

While prevention is virtually impossible, you may be able to lower your chances of getting ovarian cancer by having one or more children, using birth control pills for more than five years, have a tubal ligation, have both ovaries removed, or have a hysterectomy.

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