FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What kind of tests should I ask my gynecologist for to detect ovarian cancer?
If you feel like you are experiencing symtpoms that correlate with ovarian cancer it is best to make that clear to your doctor. Remember, a pap smear will not detect ovarian cancer. Ask for a pelvic exam, a CA-125 blood test, and image testing (such as ultrasound or CT Scan).
What are the risk factors?
There are risk factors of ovarian cancer. The main risk factors are: Genetics, Family History, Increasing Age, Reproductive History and Infertility, Hormone Replacement Therapy, and Obestiy.
The most significant risk factor for ovarian cancer is an inherited genetic mutation in one of two genes: breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) or breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2). These genes are responsible for about 10 to 15 percent of all ovarian cancers.
Women who have one first-degree relative with ovarian cancer but no known genetic mutation still have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. The lifetime risk of a woman who has a first degree relative with ovarian cancer is five percent (the average woman’s lifetime risk is 1.4 percent).
All women are at risk of developing ovarian cancer regardless of age; however ovarian cancer rates are highest in women aged 55-64 years.
Reproductive History and Infertility:
A woman is as at an increased risk if she: (1) started menustruating at an early age (before 12), (2) has not given birth to any children, (3) had her first child after 30, (4) experience menopause after 50, and (5) has nevertaken oral contraceptives.
Hormone Replacement Therapy:
Women who use menopausal hormone therapy are at an increased risk for ovarian cancer. Recent studies indicate that using a combination of estrogen and progestin for five or more years significantly increases the risk of ovarian cancer in women who have not had a hysterectomy.
A 2009 study found that obesity was associated with an almost 80 percent higher risk of ovarian cancer in women 50 to 71 who had not taken hormones after menopause.
Where is my money that I donate going?
The money that you donate is going right back into the community that we serve. It is going toward awareness and education about early detection, supporting patients currently undergoing treatment, their families and caregivers, and the women in our community.
Does ovarian cancer have symptoms in its early stages?
While the symptoms for ovarian cancer tend to be nonspecific and can mimic other conditions, a large national study shows that an overwhelming majority of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer did have symptoms, sometimes even in the early stages. The most common symptoms reported include: abdominal bloating or discomfort; increased or urgent need to urinate; difficulty eating or feeling full quickly and pelvic pain.
Source: A. Goff, M.D., Lynn Mandel, Ph.D., Howard G. Muntz, M.D., Cindy H. Melancon, R.N., M.N. 2000. Ovarian carcinoma diagnosis. Cancer 89, No. 10: 1097-0142
Are there ways to prevent ovarian cancer?
Currently there is no way of preventing ovarian cancer. However, several measures have been found to reduce a woman’s risk of developing the disease. Oral contraceptives can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by fifty percent if taken for at least five years.
Research has also shown that pregnancy and breast-feeding significantly reduce ovarian cancer risk (Br. J. Cancer, March, 2001).
Tubal ligation and hysterectomy reduce risk, though researchers are unclear exactly how. Finally, prophylactic oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) is the most effective way of reducing risk (Gynecologic Cancer Foundation Slide Presentation, 2000).
Health professionals recommend that all options be discussed thoroughly with a physician.
Does an elevated CA-125 level always indicate that ovarian cancer is present?
Not always. Although a CA-125 blood test can be a useful tool for the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, it is not uncommon for a CA-125 count to be elevated in premenopausal women due to benign conditions unrelated to ovarian cancer. Uterine fibroids, liver disease, inflammation of the fallopian tubes and other types of cancer can elevate a woman’s CA-125 level (ACOG Patient Education – 1996).
The CA-125 test is more accurate in postmenopausal women with a pelvic mass. It is also important to note that in about 20 percent of cases of advanced stage disease, and 50 percent of cases of early stage disease, the CA-125 is NOT elevated, even though there is ovarian cancer present. As a result, the CA-125 is generally only one of several tools used to diagnose ovarian cancer in a patient with a pelvic mass or other suspicious clinical findings.
One of the most important uses of the CA-125 test, however, is to evaluate progressive disease and tumor response in patients undergoing treatment, and to monitor the levels of women in remission for evidence of disease recurrence (Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, 2016).
Why don’t doctors give women a CA-125 test and transvaginal ultrasound each year? Isn’t an imperfect screening tool better than nothing?
A study published in 2011 found that screening women at average risk of ovarian cancer did not improve the women’s odds of surviving ovarian cancer – and actually put them at greater risk due to complications from unnecessary surgeries.
More than 78,000 women were randomized between normal care and screening arms. The screening protocol involved annual CA-125 testing for six years and a transvaginal ultrasound for four years. The study was designed to show the effect of screening on overall survival by following patients for 13 years. The study showed that more women were diagnosed in the screening arm, but more women died of ovarian cancer in the screening arm.
Additionally, more than 3,000 women had surgery based on false positive results, leading to more than 160 women with serious complications. This study showed that screening with this protocol did not reduce ovarian cancer mortality (Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, 2016).