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HFL: Ovarian cancer: silent and deadly

Ovarian cancer is a silent disease.Though October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Oncologist Keith Shulman, M.D., set out earlier this month to make sure that women also pay attention to the warning signs of another potentially fatal women’s cancer. In a Learning Café talk at Weiss, he addressed ovarian cancer, calling it a “silent disease.”

With 22,000 new cases diagnosed every year, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer among women. It is also the most deadly, causing 15,460 deaths per year, according to the National Cancer Institute. This happens mainly because physicians and patients often fail to catch the disease until it is too late. Many ovarian cancer cases are realized in their final stage—stage four.

Women have two ovaries, which produce the eggs used for reproduction. They are located above the uterus, yet sit deep within the abdomen surrounded by tissue. This is why it is difficult to detect any irregularities, Dr. Shulman says. However, women should pay attention to a few key warning signs. These include:

  • Feeling full quickly at meals
  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Heartburn
  • Urinary urgency
  • Increase in abdomen size

“If you’re worried and your doctor tells you it’s nothing, get a second opinion,” Dr. Shulman says.

Waiting too long to be tested could result in the cancer spreading throughout the pelvis and abdomen, making it extremely difficult to treat. To diagnose the disease, physicians conduct pelvic exams, blood tests, imaging tests and biopsies.

Treatment may include surgery to remove the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and omentum (the fatty layer that pads the organs within the abdomen). After surgery, the patient typically begins chemotherapy to destroy any remaining disease.

For further information, including possible causes and questions to ask your doctor, the National Cancer Institute offers an online booklet: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/ovary.

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