Ovarian cancer accounts for 2.5% of cancers in women, according to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance. September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and we talked to SIMEDHealth gynecologist, Dr. Austin Chen all about it.
1. Where is the ovary located in the body, and what does it do?
Ovaries come in pairs. One on each side of the body. When standing, the ovaries are located below the hip bone and produce eggs at regular intervals after hitting puberty. It contains the chromosome and genetic material of the body. Dr. Chen says, "The ovaries also produce several hormones, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. These hormones tell the uterus when to have menstrual cycles, support fertilization, and pregnancy in its early stage. The ovarian functions interact with the environment, lifestyle, aging, and other hormones from other glands such as thyroid."
2. What are some symptoms of ovarian cancer?
"There are no unique or specific symptoms ascribed to ovarian cancer, says Dr. Chen. Vague changes in bowel habits, weight, and appetite can happen as ovarian cancer progresses. This vagueness and non-specific quality make recognition of cancer's presence challenging for both doctors and patients. Furthermore, ovarian cancer, at early stages (I & II), tends to be silent.
3. How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
Dr. Chen says, "Discovery of cancer occurs during either an unsuspecting surgery as a surprise or is highly presumed before planned surgery." So basically the doctor and patient will have no idea or are highly suspicious. If it is discovered during unsuspecting surgery or after a pathology result returns, there is a good chance it is in its early stage. If the symptoms and an exam are highly suspicious, the patient will go to a gynecologic oncologist. A physical exam, blood test, CT scan, MRI or ultrasound, are all tools used to determine if an ovary is cancerous.
4. What are the treatment options for someone diagnosed with ovarian cancer?
Surgery and chemotherapy are the most common treatments the majority of the time; it is a combination of both. Gynecologic oncologists and medical oncologists work together to coordinate the chemotherapy and figure out what will work best for the patient and their cancer, says Dr. Chen.
5. Does the use of birth control increase the risk of ovarian cancer?
Dr. Chen says, "No. On the contrary, women with present or past exposure of birth control pill for five years or more will have a 50% reduction of ovarian cancer risk."
6. What is the difference between ovarian cancer and ovarian cysts?
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac. Most commonly, cysts are formed during ovulation and are entirely harmless. One type of ovarian cysts is follicular cysts. These follicular cysts can be seen on the ultrasound and occur when an egg grows inside a follicle sac. Eventually, the pouch should break open, but if it does not a cyst form. Another common type of cyst is called corpus luteum cysts. These occur when follicle sacs break free, but the mass of cells does not shrink. The sac reseals itself and forms a cyst. Both of these types of cysts go away on their own, or if they are serious, they can shrink them with medication.
We use imaging studies (ultrasound, CT, MRI) to help determine if a cyst requires medical attention or not. Dr. Chen adds, "The doctor may also order blood tests to help to make a decision."
Dr. Chen sees patients in Gainesville and Lake City. Click here to schedule an appointment with her!