Ovarian cancer; silent but deadly

No detection, no distinct symptoms and a low possibility for survival; it is known as the silent killer.

The American Cancer Society indicated that ovarian cancer is the seventh leading cause of death for women and the fourth leading cause of cancer death.

According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, ovarian cancer is developed from germ, sex cord-stromal and surface epithelial cells in or on the ovaries.

“It is called the silent killer because 80 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer don’t live beyond five years,” said Mittie Moffett, a Florida Department of Health representative and an ovarian cancer survivor.

Moffett was lucky to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer at an early stage. Common signs and symptoms can be non-existent or mild up until the disease reaches death-threatening stages.

Ovarian cancer has three types of tumors each with four stages of development. Benign or non-cancerous tumors are usually surgically removed and malignant or cancerous tumors are treated based on the type and the growth.

According to a report by the NOCC, germ cell tumors are the least harmful. They develop from cells that produce the eggs in the ovaries. Although most of these tumors are benign, cancerous cases are often found in teenagers and young women in their 20s. Fortunately, 90 percent of these cases can be treated without becoming unfertile.

Sex cord-stromal tumors are rare and can be found on the connective tissue cells, which hold the ovaries securely in place. Hormones such as estrogen and progesterone are also produced here.

The last type, epithelial tumors are the most deadly and the most common case of ovarian cancer. These tumors “account for 85 to 90 percent of all cancers of the ovaries,” according to the NOCC.

Although Ovarian Cancer has four stages of development, most women are diagnosed in the last two stages.

“Ovarian Cancer is difficult to detect, especially in the early stages. This is partly due to the fact that these two small, almond shaped organs are deep within the abdominal cavity,” reports the NOCC.

The symptoms are vague and can easily be mistaken for non-threatening conditions. Common signs range from pelvic or abdominal pain or discomfort, weight loss or weight gain to fatigue and frequent urination.

“Doctors don’t listen to women’s complaints,” said Moffett, “they pass symptoms off as signs of the aging process.”

It is important for women to take their health seriously and make appointments with their doctors regularly. Moffett advises women to know their bodies and make their doctors listen to their complaints.  

“I feel like people should be more aware of ovarian cancer. There is so much effort to talk about AIDS and other STD’s, people don’t focus on other diseases that are just as serious, said Eyerusalem Berhane, 20, a third-year pharmacy student, from Silver Spring, Md.

Tallahassee Memorial Hospital clinical nurse, Dawn Bishop said that according to the Cancer Nursing Principles and Practices, the most prevalent method used to detect ovarian cancer is the pelvic exam. Doctors manually feel the ovaries to make sure they are healthy, but obesity makes it more difficult.

According to the Florida Department of Health, nearly 1,500 ovarian cancer cases are reported every year.

“There are so many women that are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and don’t even know about it,” said Berhane.

In a 2002-2004 report issued by the FDOH, seven women on average died of ovarian cancer in Leon County. In a report during the same years, a total of 74 blacks died from ovarian cancer in the state of Florida.

Blacks and those with low incomes are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer and to die from cancer than their counterparts, said The National Cancer Institute.

Hereditary and environmental circumstances can also increase a woman’s possibility of development. Women who don’t bear children are also at high risk.

Bishop, a specialist in the oncology department at TMH, said ovarian cancer is commonly seen in women age 50 and up, the age when menopause occurs. Since menopause causes the ovaries to shrink, it is even harder to feel any tumors.

Only 25 percent of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed at an early stage, according to the Florida Department of Health. The earlier cancer is detected the better chance a woman has at survival. Because women are diagnosed at advanced stages, methods are currently being developed to successfully treat and detect ovarian cancer during severe growth.

“We should try to focus on all very common health issues that effect people, not just STDs and AIDS, but all common health issues facing Americans today, and ovarian cancer is definitely one of them,” said Berhane.

Coretta Scott King was diagnosed with terminal ovariancancer, which gave her respiratory complications and later led to her death.

A Pap test doesn’t detect ovarian cancer. But, the Ovarian Pap Test is a new test that is designed to detect pre-cancerous cells on the ovaries. The NOCC reports that this test “directly visualizes the ovaries and collects cells from the surface of the ovary and from the surface of the abdomen, similar to the cervical Pap test that collects surface epithelium from the cervix.”

For now there are no sure fire ways to detect this disease, said Moffett.

In addition the NOCC Web site reports, “New blood tests are being developed that can identify early stage ovarian cancer by the presence of newly identified tumor markers that circulate in the blood of women with advanced stage ovarian cancer.”

Look to the following Web sites for further information about tests and specific facts: www.ovarian.org, http://www.doh.state.fl.us, or www.cancer.org.

Contact Christy G. Bennett at famuanhealth@hotmail.com