Gynecologic oncologist David Fishman, MD, is calling for a major shift in the prevention and treatment of ovarian cancer.
According to Fishman, director of the cancer center and gynecologic oncology and vice chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at New York-Presbyterian in Queens, N.Y., “ovarian cancer is often diagnosed too late. … It’s important for women to know their risk [of] contracting this deadly disease, and its earliest warning signs,” he said in a press release.
Women suffering from breast cancer, or certain other types of cancer, are at increased risk of an ovarian cancer diagnosis. Other risk factors include certain gene mutations, infertility, early menstruation, obesity, and age. Women more than 70 years old also have higher odds of developing ovarian cancer, researchers have found.
Ovarian cancer, often called a “silent killer,” has mild and easy-to-ignore early symptoms, such as bloating, indigestion, nausea, pain in the abdomen and back, feeling full quickly, urinating frequently, weight gain, and shortness of breath. According to Fishman, women who have these symptoms for more than a week should consult their doctor.
Furthermore, a clean pap test doesn’t necessarily clear a woman’s ovaries of cancer, the doctor stressed. Pap tests diagnose cervical disease, but not ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is highly treatable if it’s detected in an early stage. If the cancer is just in the ovary (stage 1) the average five-year survival rate can reach 90 percent. Survival rates decrease, however, if the cancer is more advanced.
Some women at high risk choose to have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed as a precaution, Fishman said. For instance, actress Angelina Jolie told the media last year that she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed because she had the BRCA1 gene mutation, which is associated with a higher risk of ovarian and breast cancer.
Regardless of the gene mutation, all women are at risk of developing ovarian cancer and researchers estimate that one in 75 will do so. This means that more than 250,000 women around the world are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and more than half will die because of it.
However, Fishman also said that several factors can reduce a woman’s risk of developing the disease, including following a healthy, low-fat diet, having given birth, using birth control and having tubal ligation surgery. The latter are proactive measures that most women can practice.