Symptoms, Treatment of Ovarian Cancer
Research suggests that talc-based products used for feminine hygiene purposes can lead to an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer symptoms don’t always manifest until the disease has spread beyond the ovaries. It is estimated that only 20 percent of women receive an early diagnosis, when the cancer is most easily cured. Early detection of ovarian cancer is paramount, considering the 5-year survival rate for all cases is a mere 40 percent.
Besides talcum powder exposure, other risk factors for ovarian cancer include advanced age (60 or older), obesity, smoking, hormone replacement therapy, genetic predisposition and never having been pregnant. In light of mounting evidence pointing to a link between ovarian cancer and use of talc, women need to be especially vigilant in monitoring their health for early symptoms. Regular pelvic exams and blood tests can help screen for the disease, which is classified in four stages depending on the extent of cancerous tumors.
Ovarian cancer symptoms
Epithelial, stromal and germ cell tumors are the three main types of ovarian cancer. The disease is responsible for more deaths than any other cancer diagnosed within the female reproductive system.
Symptoms may be mild or non-existent in patients until the cancer has spread significantly.
However, some women are fortunate enough to detect these early signs:
- Pelvic pain, pressure and discomfort
- Abnormal bleeding
- Constant fatigue
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Feeling sated quickly or difficulty eating
- Frequent urination
- Shortness of breath
- Pain during intercourse
- Nausea and indigestion
- Back pain
- Changes with menstrual cycles
A visit to the gynecologist may be prompted by a vague sense that something is “not right,” whether one is suffering from persistent abdominal bloating or feels the constant need to urinate. A physical exam will show if ovaries are enlarged or excess fluid has accumulated in the abdominal cavity, but imaging tests such as CAT scans, blood work and ultrasound may also be employed to give a clinical diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Patients with suspected ovarian cancer are always referred to a gynecologic oncologist, who will order a thorough work-up and lab tests to confirm the presence of cancer cells. A biopsy may be necessary to harvest tissue samples and abdominal fluids for a more accurate diagnosis. If the ovarian cancer is Stage I, the disease is confined to just the ovaries, while a Stage 4 diagnosis means the tumors have spread to the spleen or liver, or malignant cells are present in other areas of the body.
Ovarian cancer treatments
Depending on the patient’s age, overall health and the stage of the disease, a customized treatment plan will be developed. Also taken into consideration is whether the patient intends to have children later on. Surgery, targeted radiation and chemotherapy are the main treatments available, and doctors may often recommend a two-pronged approach for the best results.
Ovarian cancer treatments include:
- Surgery – Normally, the first ovarian cancer treatment is a surgical procedure that allows doctors to stage the cancer and determine the extent of spread. The second goal is to remove all visible tumors from the abdomen, otherwise known as debulking. Depending on the stage of the disease, one or both ovaries, the fallopian tubes, uterus, omentum, nearby lymph nodes and other effected tissues are taken out. Tissue samples are sent for further testing to help make decisions about complementary treatments.
- Chemotherapy – Several cycles of chemotherapy are typically given through an intravenous (IV) drip for patients who have not responded well to debulking surgery, or who need a second line of defense in killing cancerous cells. Those with Stage 3 or 4 ovarian cancer or elderly patients at risk for surgical complications are usually treated with chemotherapy right away. Side effects of chemo drugs include hair loss, nausea, lowered white blood cell count and damage to the kidneys.
- Targeted drug therapy – One of the latest cancer treatments, this method uses medications that change the way a cancer cell grows, multiplies and interacts with others. Some clinical trials with bevacizumab have shown promising results in shrinking cancerous tumors.
- Radiation – High-energy radiotherapy damages cancer cells. Targeted X-ray treatment is usually given daily for several weeks. External beam radiation therapy is the main type of radio therapy used for ovarian cancer, and is most suitable for patients with tumors that are confined to the pelvic region.
In addition, complementary therapies can help alleviate the side effects and symptoms of ovarian cancer, while also promoting a sense of wellbeing. Natural herbs and supplements, biofeedback, massage, acupuncture and meditation have been known to assist women in reducing stress and physical discomfort such as headaches, lower back pain, and nausea from cancer treatments.
Litigation relating to talc and ovarian cancer
Despite petitions from the Cancer Prevention Organization, health officials at the FDA have yet to issue a consumer safety alert about the risks of ovarian cancer from talc powder. Sadly, this disease accounts for nearly 15,000 deaths every year in the United States. Women who are concerned about symptoms of ovarian cancer are urged to see their gynecologist immediately. With early detection and swift treatment, the odds of beating the disease improve.
Women who suspect that baby powder or another talc-based product may have caused their ovarian cancer may have a viable claim for damages. A handful of talcum powder lawsuits have already been filed, demanding that manufacturers be held accountable for a failure to warn.
- Mayo Clinic, Ovarian Cancer Symptoms, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ovarian-cancer/basics/symptoms/con-20028096
- American Cancer Society, Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer, http://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovariancancer/detailedguide/ovarian-cancer-diagnosis
- Medicine.net, Ovarian Cancer, http://www.medicinenet.com/ovarian_cancer/article.htm
- Cancer Prevention Research, Genital powder use and risk of ovarian cancer: a pooled analysis of 8,525 caes and 9,859 controls,http://cancerpreventionresearch.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2013/06/12/1940-6207.CAPR-13-0037.short