Understanding the Three Types of Ovarian Cancer
September 13, 2021The words “ovarian cancer” sound scary, but the risk of ovarian cancer, in general, is fairly low. In the United States, only about 1.1% of new cancer cases are ovarian, and based on current data, only 1.2% of women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.1 Those who are diagnosed are more likely to be women ages 55 to 64. Though ovarian cancer isn’t as common in women of childbearing years, it does occur.2 There are three different types of ovarian cancer, and each type generally affects women of different ages.
Epithelial Ovarian Cancer
Epithelial tumors are the most common type of ovarian cancer, accounting for nearly 90% of all ovarian cancers. Epithelial tumors are typically diagnosed in women over the age of 50. The tumors develop in the layer of tissue outside the ovaries and are usually treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.
Stromal Ovarian Cancer
Stromal tumors make up about 5% of all ovarian cancers and can occur in women at any age, including adolescence. Unlike some epithelial cancers, the majority of stromal tumors can be diagnosed at early stages. They grow in hormone-producing cells and can generally be treated with surgery alone.
Germ Cell Ovarian Cancer
Germ cell tumors also account for about 5% of all primary ovarian cancer diagnoses and tend to occur in younger women, including those in their early 20s. These tumors develop in egg-producing cells and are often detected and treated early with surgery. They typically do not require chemotherapy unless the cancer is found at a later stage.
Signs and Symptoms
Detecting ovarian cancers in their early stages can be difficult because they often have no symptoms, or if there are symptoms present, they’re often associated with less serious conditions. The following are the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer, and if they occur more than 12 times a month, make sure you see your doctor.3
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms such as urgency or increased frequency
Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
- Upset stomach
- Back pain
- Painful intercourse
- Heavier than normal or irregular periods
- Abdominal swelling with weight loss
Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer
Though research to develop better screening tests for ovarian cancer is ongoing, there are two that have the greatest amount of clinical test data supporting their use: the transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) and the blood test for the serum marker CA-125.3
TVUS uses sound waves from an ultrasound wand placed into the vagina to look at the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries to detect the presence of a mass. However, it can’t detect if the mass is cancerous or benign. Most of the masses found with this method of screening are not cancerous.
CA-125 is a blood test that measures the amount of CA-125 protein in the body, but it has not been found to be as useful as a screening test for ovarian cancer. However, if a woman has already been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the test can be useful as a tumor marker to help determine if treatment is working because the protein level will decrease.
Only about 20% of ovarian cancers are found at an early stage. When ovarian cancer is found early, about 94% of patients live longer than five years after diagnosis. Make sure you have regular health exams and see your doctor if you think you might have symptoms.
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