Ovarian Cancer, often known as the “silent killer,” or “whispering disease” among women according to Harvard.edu and NIH.gov, is considered the 5th leading cause of death in women, and the leading gynecological type of cancer death. The American Cancer Society estimates that “about 19,880 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States” in 2022, and close to 13,000 women will die from it. It affects “1 out of every 78 women, or 1.3 percent.” (Ovarian Cancer Facts and Statistics | MyOvarianCancerTeam) Many women diagnosed with Ovarian cancer are over 63 years old. The average age of death from this cancer is 70. (Ovarian Cancer Statistics | How Common is Ovarian Cancer)
This cancer is known as the silent killer, because “many women don’t seek help until the disease has begun to spread, but if detected at its earliest stage, the five-year survival rate is more than 93%.” (ovariancancerawareness.org) Per Ovarian Cancer Facts and Statistics | MyOvarianCancerTeam, “16.3 percent of cases in the U.S. are diagnosed at the localized or early stage, which has a 92.6 percent survival rate five years after diagnosis. 21 percent of cases are diagnosed at the regional stage (spread to lymph nodes), which has a 74.8 percent five-year survival rate. 57 percent of cases are diagnosed at the distant or later stage (metastasized cancer), which has a 30.3 percent survival rate. 5 percent of cases are diagnosed at an unknown stage, which has a 27 percent survival rate.”
“Ovarian cancer encompasses cancers of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the primary peritoneum, which is the tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers the abdominal organs.” Most women have little to no complaints or symptoms of the disease until the disease has come to an advanced stage 3 or 4. “Because symptoms are thought to develop only after the disease has reached an advanced stage,” the disease becomes largely incurable, and thus becomes the “silent killer.” (http://www.aacr.org/patients-caregivers/awareness-months/ovarian-cancer-awareness-month/)
Fredhutch.org states that ovarian cancer isn’t really a silent killer. There are symptoms: it’s just that they whisper or are commonly mistaken for something else, like aging or irritable bowel syndrome. There is currently no screening in place to detect ovarian cancer. Therefore, it is important for patients to closely pay attention to any symptoms they may have and seek the help of a physician if they experience frequent symptoms that last for a long period of time.
Common symptoms of Ovarian Cancer can include:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms (having to go frequently or urgently)
Less-common symptoms of Ovarian Cancer can include:
- Lack of energy
- Vaginal bleeding
- Nausea or diarrhea
The physician will order tests and imaging to determine if something is going on. A simple blood test, known as CA-125, may or may not determine if a patient has ovarian cancer or something else, but it is a great indicator. A pelvic exam with a transvaginal ultrasound can help the doctor visually see if there is something going on within the reproductive region and determine if a biopsy is the next step.
Research continues to find ways to reduce these statistics and see a world free of cancer. As with all cancers, early detection is key to better survival rates, treatment, and much more. If you feel you have any of the above symptoms, see a physician as fast as you can, and put your mind at ease.
- Ovarian Cancer Facts and Statistics | MyOvarianCancerTeam
- Ovarian Cancer Statistics | How Common is Ovarian Cancer
- Squelching ovarian cancer: the not-so-silent killer (fredhutch.org).