For younger women with ovarian cancer, aggressive treatment can end reproductive ability. But a new study from the journal Cancer found that saving the uterus or one ovary of a young woman with early-stage ovarian cancer can preserve her fertility without compromising survival. This is good news for the 17 percent of U.S. women diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 40 or younger.
Researchers found that survival rates during the first five years following the cancer diagnosis were similar between women who had one ovary or their uterus spared and those who had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) or both ovaries removed.
In the study, researchers looked at data from more than 4,000 ovarian cancer patients, age 50 or younger, who had surgery for the disease during a six-year period. Only about 400 had an ovary conserved and about 650 had uterine preservation. But their survival rates generally matched their counterparts who had the full hysterectomy or ovary removal.
A hysterectomy or removal of both ovaries is often viewed as the best surgical treatment for the cancer. But in addition to ending a woman's reproductive ability, these surgeries can cause estrogen deprivation that leads to many other health issues, such as osteoporosis. However, the findings from this study suggest that conservative surgical management should be considered in young women with ovarian cancer given the potential benefits of ovarian and uterine preservation.
Catching ovarian cancer before it has spread gives women a 90 percent chance of living at least five years after treatment. However, there is no specific screening for ovarian cancer -- once symptoms become present, diagnostic tests are performed.
In addition to older age (ages 50 to 75), risk factors for ovarian cancer include obesity, not having children until after age 30 or not at all, late onset of menopause (after age 55), or a family history of other female cancers, as well as colorectal cancer.
Ovarian cancer is sometimes called the silent killer. That's because its symptoms aren't that unusual. But it's still important to be aware of possible symptoms, such as persistent abdominal pain and bloating, problems with urination or constipation, or trouble eating. If you experience any of these, mention it to your doctor. Many women fail to do so and by the time ovarian cancer is diagnosed, the disease is usually very advanced.
For more information, contact the National Cancer Institute at 800-422-6237.
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Can You Be Screened for Ovarian Cancer?
A screening exam that can detect ovarian cancer in women who do not have symptoms is not currently available. The Pap test, so effective in detecting cervical cancer, only rarely uncovers ovarian cancer. A study is underway to determine the effectiveness of using a screening program that evaluates a woman's age in conjunction with results from a CA125 blood test. So far it appears quite effective and may, sometime in the future, become a routine form of screening for post-menopausal women.