Medical Monday: Reduce your risk for ovarian cancer; signs, symptoms, treatments

Posted at 7:12 PM, Oct 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-31 20:22:01-04
Dr. Peter Johnson is a gynecologic surgeon with Aurora BayCare Medical Center. He joined us on Wisconsin Tonight to talk about reducing your risk for ovarian cancer; signs, symptoms, treatments.
It’s a form of cancer that develops in the ovaries, the almond-shaped reproductive glands in women. This form of cancer is often undetected until it has spread. At that stage, treatment is challenging and the disease can be fatal.
An estimated 22,300 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed this year alone, with 14,200 deaths, according to American Cancer Society figures. In women ages 35-74, ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related death.
There are risk factors, but they are not as definitive as we’d like, except when a woman has the genetic mutations clearly known to be associated with this disease. Risk factors include:
* Genetics and personal medical history
* Reproductive history
* Age and ethnicity
* Diet and body size
While there is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, the following are thought to lower a woman’s chances of getting the disease:
* Having used birth control pills
* Having had a tubal ligation (getting your tubes tied), both ovaries removed, or a hysterectomy (an operation in which the uterus, and sometimes the cervix, is removed)
* Having given birth
* Breastfeeding for a year or more
There are rarely any warning signs of early-stage ovarian cancer. Advanced-stage ovarian cancer, however, is known to cause a number of symptoms that often are mistaken for more common benign conditions, such as constipation or irritable bowel. Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:
* Increased abdominal size
* Quickly feeling full when eating
* Pelvic pain or pressure
* Vaginal bleeding or menstruation changes
Surgery and chemotherapy are generally used to treat ovarian cancer. The exact treatment method depends largely on the type of ovarian cancer and how extensively it has spread. Other treatment options include:
* Clinical trials: Clinical trials use new treatment options to see if they are safe and effective. They are designed to find ways to improve health and cancer care. Participation in these trials gives patients access to new therapy options typically unavailable to people outside the clinical trial setting.
* Radiation: Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. It’s not a regular treatment option.
* Complementary therapies: These are therapeutic practices and products used in conjunction with conventional medicine. They include, but are not limited to, therapies like acupuncture, breathing exercises, massage, meditation and yoga.
Scientists continue to study the genes responsible for familial ovarian cancer. This research is yielding clues about how these genes work and how disrupting their action can lead to cancer. This information is expected to lead to new drugs for preventing and treating familial ovarian cancer, the American Cancer Society tells us.
Research in this area has already led to better ways to detect high-risk genes and assess a woman's ovarian cancer risk. The good news is that early detection generally results in a 90 percent five-year survival rate. Researchers are hard at work studying new ways to better screen and detect ovarian cancers.
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