On Ovarian Cancer

October 10, 2011

Reports indicate that approximately two million women develop breast or cervical cancer each year, and these rates continue to increase. Though not as common, ovarian cancer – the fifth most common cancer in women – causes more deaths than any other type of female reproductive cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, to date in 2011 there have been an estimated 21,990 new cases of ovarian cancer, and 15,460 deaths due to the disease. Making women aware of the possible symptoms of ovarian cancer and encouraging them to have routine gynecological appointments may help to improve rates of diagnosis of the condition.

While nearly one in three women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, one in seven will develop ovarian cancer, but detection and diagnosis is significantly more difficult in ovarian cancer. The symptoms associated with ovarian cancer are often vague, and are commonly associated with other common conditions. According to experts, women should see their doctor if they experience bloating, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and pelvic or abdominal pain on a daily basis for more than a few weeks. Because of the difficulty detecting ovarian cancer, it is frequently not detected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. In its late stages it is often fatal, but if diagnosis is made early and treatment is received before the cancer spreads outside of the ovary, the 5-year survival rate is very high. In order to combat difficulties diagnosing ovarian cancer, researchers are working to develop new flureoscence-guided techniques that may make it possible to identify very small tumors that may have been missed using traditional detection methods.

All women are at risk of developing ovarian cancer, but approximately 90 percent of women who get the disease are 40 years of age or older, with the greatest number of cases occurring in women aged 60 and older. Women who have children earlier in life have a decreased risk of developing ovarian cancer, while those who have a personal history of breast cancer or a family history of breast or ovarian cancer have an increased risk. Once ovarian cancer has been positively diagnosed, as with other cancers, it is most often treated surgically. This frequently involves the removal of the uterus, both ovaries and fallopian tubes, and/or removal of the lymph nodes. In addition to the surgical removal of tumors, individuals with ovarian cancer may undergo chemotherapy, however radiation therapy is seldom used in the United States to treat ovarian cancer.

Though difficult to diagnose, if treated quickly ovarian cancer can be beaten. By encouraging women to monitor their health and communicate any concerns to their physician, it may be possible to identify cases more quickly and improve treatment outcomes.


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On Breast Cancer Worldwide

September 20, 2010

This October marks the 25th annual celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, during which organizations in the U.S. and worldwide will hold events aimed at raising awareness and providing education about breast cancer. In spite of ongoing efforts to inform the public about breast cancer, it continues to be a major health concern worldwide. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), in 2010, there will be 209,060 new cases of breast cancer in the United States. Reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that incidence rates vary worldwide, however as the adoption of “western lifestyles” increase in the developing world, breast cancer has become more common. Due to the lack of adequate diagnosis and treatment facilities in these regions, survival rates are often also significantly lower. In 2004 an estimated 519,000 women died worldwide due to breast cancer, with 69 percent of these deaths occurring in developing nations. By ensuring that information about breast cancer and early detection programs are available, treatment outcomes worldwide can be greatly improved.

Like other types of cancer, breast cancer develops when abnormal cells divide in an uncontrolled fashion and spread to surrounding tissue (metastasize). Breast cancer is a malignant form of tumor growth which can develop in both men and women, but is approximately 100 times less common in men. An estimated one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, making it the second most commonly diagnosed cancer after skin cancer in women in the United States. There are many types of breast cancer, but two of the most common are ductal carcinoma, which begins in the cells that line the milk ducts of the breast; and lobular carcinoma, which begins in the lobes or lobules of the breast. Unlike less common forms of breast cancer, including inflammatory breast cancer which is marked by heat, redness, and swelling of the breast, these common types of breast cancer tend to manifest similarly.

The first signs of breast cancer may include a lump in the breast or thickening of breast tissue, change in shape of the breast, changes in the breast or nipple skin, or bloody discharge from the nipple. Tumors in the breasts may be detected during clinical breast exams, mammograms and other imaging tests, or self breast exams. A mammogram is a black-and-white image of the breast similar to an X-ray. Though some recommendations differ, the American Cancer Society suggests that women undergo yearly mammograms beginning at age 40. Though mammography has proven to be an effective screening method and can help ensure early diagnosis of breast cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that more than 7 million women in the United States have not had a recent mammogram.

Following the identification of a tumor within the breast, a determination must be made regarding how advanced the spread of the cancer is so that it can be effectively treated. The “Stages” into which breast cancer are categorized – from Stage 0, defined by abnormal cells that are not invasive cancer, to Stage IV, defined by cancer which has spread throughout the tissues of the body. The Stages indicate how aggressively the cancer is spreading within the breast, to the surrounding tissue and lymph nodes, and throughout the rest of the body. Depending on the progression of the cancer, treatment options may include chemotherapy and surgery. Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses powerful chemicals to slow the growth of cancer in the body or kill off the cancer cells. Though it is effective, chemotherapy, which can produce a number of side effects, including nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and fatigue, is often used in combination with surgical interventions. Breast-sparing surgeries, which aim to remove cancer from the breast while preserving the surrounding tissue; and mastectomies, in which the entire breast is removed, are often employed.

Though breast cancer treatment can be physically and emotionally painful, there are currently over 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. and many more around the world. Breast cancer can occur at any age, but the risk of its development increases as an individual gets older. While the cause is still unknown, there are a number of factors linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer including the presence of certain “breast cancer genes,” a woman’s age, family history, and age at the onset of menstruation and menopause can increase their risk of developing breast cancer. While little can be done about some of these factors, some women with a genetic predisposition to developing cancer have opted to undergo preventative mastectomies to reduce their risk. Individuals can also help to reduce their risk by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

By ensuring that individuals are made aware of the importance of regular clinical and self breast evaluations and that early detection and diagnosis programs are made available, treatment outcomes can be greatly improved.

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