As reported by the American Cancer Society, more than 22,000 women in the US are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year. Unfortunately, only 46 percent of these women survive the first five years after diagnosis. However, doctors report a 94 percent five-year survival rate if detected early.
Tragically, Ovarian Cancer is hard to detect as many women suffer mild symptoms or none at all until the disease has advanced.
Causes of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian Cancer, like many other cancers, is caused by the rapid division and multiplication of cells in the ovary. It is not easily diagnosed nor is its occurrence easily understood, however, there are risk factors that put women at a higher chance of developing the disease. These include family history, age, personal history with cancer and endometriosis, obesity, fertility treatments, and genetic make-up (presence of BRAC1 or BRAC2).
Currently, there is no proven way of preventing the disease in high-risk women; however, there are measures that can be taken to lower the risk. Women at high-risk of Ovarian Cancer are advised to:
- Have their ovaries and fallopian tubes surgically removed
- Breastfeed for longer
- Have for full-term pregnancies
- Take oral contraceptives
The good news is that there is hope for women at high-risk of Ovarian Cancer; in taking blood tests every four months, tumours can be found early.
In a report published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, cancers were detected through blood screening in a clinical trial on 4,348 women. One of the women was Caroline Presho a 43-year-old from Hertfordshire.
Caroline inherited a flaw in her genes called BRAC2, which she called a “rubbish mutant”. Her family has a history of breast and ovarian cancer.
She had been advised to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes surgically removed. This meant that she would start menopause at the early age of 35 which is detrimental to her cognitive, bone and heart health.
During the study, the researchers kept track of the chemical CA125 in the women’s blood. Three times a year, doctors would monitor any changes in the levels of CA125; elevated levels signaled cancer.
Early Cancer Detection
In the three years of screening and the year after, 19 cancers were detected with half of them in their early stages. Five years later, 18 more cases were detected and this time only one was in its early stages.
During the study, the women also underwent annual scans and sometimes surgery where cancer was highly probable. The scans detect cancer while surgery ensures that cancerous tumours do not develop in the first place.
According to Prof Usha Menon, the study aimed at getting women to have surgery as early as possible. While the screening detects the disease in its early stage, the doctors are not sure it does much to save lives.
Caroline Presho, like many high-risk women, wanted to finish having babies before she had surgery. She had the surgery after having her fourth child.
Athena Lamnisos of The Eve Appeal said: “This research gives women hope and confidence that there is an evidence-based approach to screening if they decide to delay risk-reducing surgery.”
Women at a higher risk of Ovarian Cancer now have a choice between monitoring their chances and having preventative surgery.