As one of the five main types of cancer that affects a woman’s reproductive organs, ovarian cancer is a serious health concern. Because this type of gynecological cancer can be deadly, it’s time all women get their facts straight. According to the American Cancer Society, about 22,440 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2017, and about 14,080 women will die from the disease. Since gynecological health is of the utmost importance, here are seven facts you need to know about ovarian cancer.
1. There are three categories of ovarian cancer
There are more than 30 types of ovarian cancer, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, which are grouped into three categories:
Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most common type, accounting for about 90% of all cases. It originates in the layer of cells that cover the ovary and the entire abdominal cavity. Treatment includes surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.
Germ cell ovarian cancer is the most common type found in teens and women in their 20s. It originates in the egg-producing cells inside the ovaries, and treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy.
Sex cord-stromal ovarian cancer originates in the connective tissue of the ovaries, which produces female sex hormones.
When any of these three types of ovarian cancer spread to other areas of the body, which is a possibility, it’s referred to as metastatic ovarian cancer.
2. The PAP test does not screen for ovarian cancer
We all know that PAP tests, uncomfortable as they may be, are a necessary part of a woman’s health. And while the test is effective in detecting abnormalities that may lead to other serious issues, it will not detect ovarian cancer. The only cancer the PAP test screens for is cervical.
3. There are two ways to screen for ovarian cancer
Although ovarian cancer is often difficult to detect or diagnose, there are two tests often used to screen for the cancer: transvaginal ultrasound, or TVUS, and the CA-125 blood test. But, according to the ACS, neither of these are definitive or 100% accurate.
TVUS uses sound waves to look at the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries by inserting an ultrasound wand into the vagina. While this test can find a mass in the ovary, it can’t actually determine whether or not it’s cancerous.
The CA-125 blood test is used to detect high levels of CA-125, a protein in the blood that’s often high in women with ovarian cancer. However, this test isn’t foolproof, as common conditions other than cancer can also cause high levels.
4. Symptoms are often ignored or relatively mild
Because symptoms aren’t as out-of-the-blue or unusual as those of other illnesses, ovarian cancer can be difficult to diagnose. Differentiating between signs of ovarian cancer and symptoms of PMS or menopause, for example, isn’t as obvious as you’d hope. Common signs of ovarian cancer, according to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, include a swollen or bloated abdomen, persistent pressure or pain in the abdomen or pelvis, urinary concerns, and unexplained vaginal bleeding.
5. Ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed at a late stage
Unlike other cancers that lend themselves to early detection, ovarian cancer does not. The signs and symptoms may remain dormant long before the cancer is detected, and even longer before a diagnosis is reached. According to Bright Pink, one in 75 women will get ovarian cancer in their lifetime, and two-thirds of those diagnosed will die from their disease.
6. Never having given birth could put you at greater risk
As if women who’ve chosen to live child-free don’t face enough challenges already, they can also add upping their chances of getting ovarian cancer to the list of obstacles. Although all women are at risk for ovarian cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists certain factors that may increase the risk, and having never given birth is one of them. While older women are more likely to get ovarian cancer than younger women, additional risk factors include family history, having endometriosis, and having had breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer.
7. Birth control pills could help lower your risk
Although there’s no way to prevent ovarian cancer, there are certain factors that may put you at less of a risk. According to the CDC, if you’ve used birth control for more than five years, you may be doing more than just preventing unwanted pregnancies. Additional factors that may also lower a woman’s chance of getting ovarian cancer include getting your tubes tied, having a hysterectomy, or having given birth.