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Ovarian Cancer: Risk Factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

Affecting tens of thousands of women annually, ovarian cancer is one of the most dangerous types of cancer in females.
Affecting tens of thousands of women annually, ovarian cancer is one of the most dangerous types of cancer in females. Photo Credit: Valley Health System

RIDGEWOOD, N.J. -- Ovarian cancer is the most deadly cancer involving the female reproductive tract, and is the ninth most common cancer in women. The American Cancer Society estimates that 14,080 deaths due to ovarian cancer will occur in the United States in 2017.

No one knows exactly what causes ovarian cancer, but factors that may increase risk include:

Age - Women over age 55 are much more likely to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer than younger women.

Family history - Women with a close relative with ovarian cancer, as well as women with a family history of breast, uterine or colorectal cancers, may be at higher risk.

Personal history - Women who have already had breast, uterine or colorectal cancer and women who have never been pregnant appear to be at increased risk.

Ovarian cancer symptoms are often mild or vague, and women may ignore or dismiss them. If any of these symptoms develop, especially if they persist, it is important to report them to a doctor:

  • Heaviness in the pelvic area
  • Lower abdominal pain, bloating or swelling
  • Gas, nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Urinary frequency or urgency

As part of the initial work-up for ovarian cancer, all patients are recommended to undergo genetic testing to check for any mutations that may predispose them to developing ovarian cancer. Knowing this information can direct treatment options, guide screening and have implications for other family members.

Treatment options depend on the cancer’s stage, family planning considerations and individual health, but usually require a combination of both surgery and chemotherapy. In recent years, technology has advanced to allow select patients to recover more quickly from surgery using a minimally invasive approach. There have also been new advances in the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer, including the approval of targeted therapies and ongoing research in immunotherapy and other novel agents.

When choosing a cancer center for treatment, it's important to consider the volume of ovarian cancer patients treated at the center. Studies have shown that hospitals treating high numbers of ovarian cancers have better outcomes. At Valley, our team saw 40 cases of ovarian cancer last year.

In partnership with Mount Sinai Health System, Valley Health System provides state-of-the-art, comprehensive cancer care in northern New Jersey. Patients can feel confident in the quality of care they receive, as the Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care Gynecologic Oncology program combines state-of-the-art technology and clinical expertise with personalized, evidence-based treatment plans.

To learn more about Valley’s Gynecologic Oncology program, click here or call 201-634-5401.

Dr. Marie Welshinger is the medical director of Gynecologic Oncology at Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care. Dr. Eleonora Teplinsky is the director of Breast Medical Oncology at Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care.