By year’s end, about 22,240 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, a newly released report from the American Cancer Society estimates.
“Although ovarian cancer is not one of the most common cancers, it causes 5 percent of cancer deaths among US women,” Lindsey Torre, MSPH, the report’s lead author, said in a press release. “Understanding of the disease has evolved rapidly in recent years; however, much remains to be gained in ovarian cancer research.”
The report notes that the overall incidence ovarian cancer declined by 29 percent from 1985 to 2014, while mortality declined 33 percent from 1976 to 2015.
Multiple births, use of oral contraceptives and oophorectomy – surgical removal of one or both ovaries – could be contributing to a lesser overall risk of ovarian cancer, while menopausal hormones have been observed to increase risk.
A family history of breast or ovarian cancer remains the strongest risk for the disease. Genetic mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes account for almost 40 percent of known cases in women with a family history of the disease.
For this reason, genetic testing is recommended for all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and may help them to make more informed decisions regarding their medical and reproductive choices.
The report also shows that incidence of ovarian cancer among women age 65 or older has been continuously declining since at least 1975. Researchers believe this is due to an increase in use of oral contraceptives, which offer a substantial reduction of ovarian cancer risk – 35 percent for women taking oral contraceptives for five to nine years.
The society adds that, while there are still no recommended screening tests for ovarian cancer, large studies aiming to identify effective strategies are ongoing. To date, no screening tests have proven their efficacy in prospective studies.
The full report includes additional information on racial/ethnical disparities. While survival rates have improved slightly over the past three decades among non-Hispanic whites, rates have remained stagnant among non-Hispanic blacks, possibly due to differences in access to high-quality treatment.
Non-Hispanic black women also have the poorest survival rates for almost every stage of this cancer across its subtypes.
Additional research is recommended to more specifically determine the reasons for this disparity and to advance the understanding of the disease to identify modifiable risk factors, develop effective early detection methods, and improve treatment.
While ovarian cancer usually presents as swelling of the abdomen, some women may experience persistent, nonspecific symptoms in the months prior to diagnosis, including back pain, abdominal or pelvic pain, difficulty eating, altered bowel habits, or urinary urgency.
“Women who experience such symptoms daily for more than a few weeks should seek prompt medical evaluation,” the researchers write in their report.