Ovarian cancer: what is it?
What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the ovaries. Sounds simple, but there are over 30 different types of ovarian cancer. According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, each type is classified by the type of cell where the ovarian cancer originates. There are three common cell types: common epithelial tumors, germ cell tumors, and stromal tumors.
The American Cancer Society estimates that last year, 22,280 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 15,500 women died from the disease. These statistics make ovarian cancer the fifth leading cause of death and the leading cause of gynecologic cancer deaths among women in the United States.
The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund states when ovarian cancer is found in its early stages, patients have a 92% five-year survival rate. However, only 20% of all cases are caught in stage 1 and 2. With most women being diagnosed at advanced stages, less than 50 percent of these women will survive five years.
Due to the vague symptoms (bloating, pelvic/abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly, the urge to urinate often, fatigue, backache) of ovarian cancer, women and their physicians often attribute these signs to other causes. This extends the time to diagnosis and the cancer has often spread beyond the ovaries, at this point. We understand this situation because we experienced it first hand.
Stages of Ovarian Cancer
To understand ovarian cancer a little more, you need to know the stages (this is taken straight from the NOCC):
Stage I – Growth of the cancer is limited to the ovary or ovaries.
Stage IA – Growth is limited to one ovary and the tumor is confined to the inside of the ovary. There is no cancer on the outer surface of the ovary. There are no ascites present containing malignant cells. The capsule is intact.
Stage IB – Growth is limited to both ovaries without any tumor on their outer surfaces. There are no ascites present containing malignant cells. The capsule is intact.
Stage IC – The tumor is classified as either Stage IA or IB and one or more of the following are present: (1) tumor is present on the outer surface of one or both ovaries; (2) the capsule has ruptured; and (3) there are ascites containing malignant cells or with positive peritoneal washings.
Stage II – Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries with pelvic extension.
Stage IIA – The cancer has extended to and/or involves the uterus or the fallopian tubes, or both.
Stage IIB – The cancer has extended to other pelvic organs.
Stage IIC – The tumor is classified as either Stage IIA or IIB and one or more of the following are present: (1) tumor is present on the outer surface of one or both ovaries; (2) the capsule has ruptured; and (3) there are ascites containing malignant cells or with positive peritoneal washings.
Stage III – Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries, and one or both of the following are present: (1) the cancer has spread beyond the pelvis to the lining of the abdomen; and (2) the cancer has spread to lymph nodes. The tumor is limited to the true pelvis but with histologically proven malignant extension to the small bowel or omentum.
Stage IIIA – During the staging operation, the practitioner can see cancer involving one or both of the ovaries, but no cancer is grossly visible in the abdomen and it has not spread to lymph nodes. However, when biopsies are checked under a microscope, very small deposits of cancer are found in the abdominal peritoneal surfaces.
Stage IIIB – The tumor is in one or both ovaries, and deposits of cancer are present in the abdomen that are large enough for the surgeon to see but not exceeding 2 cm in diameter. The cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.
Stage IIIC – The tumor is in one or both ovaries, and one or both of the following is present: (1) the cancer has spread to lymph nodes; and/or (2) the deposits of cancer exceed 2 cm in diameter and are found in the abdomen.
Stage IV – This is the most advanced stage of ovarian cancer. Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries and distant metastases (spread of the cancer to organs located outside of the peritoneal cavity) have occurred. Finding ovarian cancer cells in pleural fluid (from the cavity which surrounds the lungs) is also evidence of stage IV disease.
Survival rates for ovarian cancer change dramatically between stages 2 and 3. This is the current reality with no reliable, accurate early detection test. It’s a scary situation.
Our goal is to educate women around the world about ovarian cancer. We will post more about various topics, so that we can start the discussion.
Here is a great video I found on YouTube that brings this all together. This video was posted by UCONN Health. Dr. Molly Brewer, a gynecologic oncologist at the UConn Health Center gives a great overview of ovarian cancer.