LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 11, 2012) - The following column appeared in the Lexington Herald-leader on Sunday, Sept. 9.
By Dr. John van Nagell
The United States is expected to see nearly 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer this year, and more than 15,000 women will die of the disease. In Kentucky specifically, this year we expect an estimated 350 new cases of ovarian cancer and 220 deaths from the disease.
The exact causes of ovarian cancer are unknown. We do know that the risk for developing it is linked to several factors. Age is a major one; women 50 and older are at higher risk. Women who have a documented family history of ovarian or breast cancers are more likely to develop the disease. <?xml:namespace prefix = owc />
And if a woman has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation (which can be determined through genetic testing), she has a higher chance of developing both ovarian and breast cancers.
Other factors linked to the disease include an early age of beginning menstruation, late age at natural menopause, endometriosis, infertility or not bearing children, obesity, and hormone replacement therapy.
How can I reduce my risk of developing ovarian cancer? Using oral contraceptives for five or more years, particularly from ages 20 to 30, can reduce ovarian cancer risk by half. Higher-risk women who have already completed childbearing can undergo prophylactic surgical removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes, thereby eliminating their risk for this type of cancer. A lowered risk of ovarian cancer also appears to be a benefit of both bearing children and breast-feeding.
How is ovarian cancer treated? Initial treatment is surgery to remove one or both ovaries and fallopian tubes; depending on the stage of the disease, some patients may require a hysterectomy as well. After surgery, some patients may need chemotherapy.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer? Unfortunately, there are few specific symptoms of early ovarian cancer, and most women have advanced disease by the time they consult a physician. The cure rate for advanced ovarian cancer is low: about 10 percent.
However, the disease is highly curable if detected early; the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer that has not metastasized is 95 percent. Therefore, screening at-risk women before symptoms occur has been initiated to detect ovarian cancer at an earlier and more curable stage.
Are there screening guidelines for ovarian cancer? Not at this time. The University of Kentucky Ovarian Cancer Screening Program offers free screenings via transvaginal ultrasound to all Kentucky women over age 50 and women over 25 with a documented history of ovarian cancer. We hope that the results from the UK trial will help provide guidelines for future national screening trials.
For information on the UK Ovarian Cancer Screening Program, call 1-800-766-8279.
Dr. John van Nagell is a gynecologic oncologist and director of the UK Ovarian Cancer Screening Program.