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Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer in women and the fifth most common cause of cancer death among women.  In 2003, it is estimated that more than 25,000 new patients will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and that it will claim the lives of nearly 14,000 American women. Ovarian cancer-like many others-is considered by most people to be one disease.  However, there are different types of ovarian cancer depending upon where in the ovary the cancer develops.  The major types are called epithelial, stromal and germ cell.  The origin for 85% of ovarian cancers is epithelial. 

Ovarian cancer is said to be "silent", implying that it has no symptoms.  In retrospect, however, many women with ovarian cancer recall having had subtle symptoms such as unusual changes or lower abdominal or pelvic pressure or "fullness"; abdominal bloating; pain with intercourse; or changes in bowel and bladder patterns. 

The risk for epithelial ovarian cancer increases directly with age, especially around the time of menopause.  Germ cell ovarian cancers can develop in adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 16-20, however.  Family history is a strong risk factor.  Others include infertility or not having been pregnant.  Regrettably, there is no reliable screening test for epithelial ovarian cancer.   The good news is that birth control pills have been shown to reduce the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer.  Further good news is that there have been numerous advances in the treatment of ovarian cancer over the past several years.  What was once considered a death sentence is now considered a management challenge.  New chemotherapeutic regimens are being studied, as are maintenance therapies, additional surgeries, and newer drugs altogether, such as Xyotax, which is anticipated to have fewer side effects.  Other new horizons being studied include diagnostic tests and new therapies that can specifically target cancer cell growth by restricting the blood supply to the tumor.

Created: 11/7/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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