Why Is Ovarian Cancer So Deadly?

Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer in women in the U.S. and the fifth leading cancer-related cause of death. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 22,280 new cases of ovarian cancer in 2012, and approximately 15,500 women will die from it.

Ovarian cancer has been called the "silent killer." It earned this reputation for several reasons.

Appearance of Symptoms

In the past, physicians believed symptoms of ovarian cancer did not develop until the disease had reached an advanced stage. This caused a delay in diagnosing the disease. Today, research shows this is not true. More than 90 percent of women diagnosed with early stage ovarian cancer did experience symptoms.

The problem is that ovarian cancer symptoms mimic other diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome. So, although symptoms are present, they don't necessarily prompt women to be concerned or seek medical attention. However, any symptoms that persist for more than a few weeks, or that represent a departure from normal, should raise concern.

The most common ovarian cancer symptoms include:

  • Pressure or pain in abdomen, pelvis, back or legs
  • Swollen, bloated abdomen
  • Gastrointestinal problems, including nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation or diarrhea
  • Chronic fatigue

Less common symptoms include shortness of breath, the need to urinate frequently and unusual vaginal bleeding.

No Screening Tests

Unlike mammograms for breast cancer, or the PSA test for prostate cancer, there is no screening test for ovarian cancer. Currently, researchers are working on a screening tool that tests for patterns of proteins that may indicate ovarian cancer. If you're interested in participating in a clinical trial for ovarian cancer, you can learn more at www.clinicaltrials.gov.

Lack of Awareness

Some types of cancer and other diseases benefit from widespread awareness and education campaigns. However, many women have little or no information about ovarian cancer and don't seek medical attention for unusual symptoms. This is changing as organizations such as the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance introduce much-needed public awareness campaigns.

In addition to recognizing the symptoms of ovarian cancer, here are a few other facts you should know.

  • A woman's lifetime risk for ovarian cancer is one in 72
  • The overall five-year survival rate is 46 percent.
  • The five-year survival rate when diagnosed early is 93 percent. However, only 19 percent of women receive a diagnosis before the disease has advanced; 75 percent are diagnosed after their cancer has spread.
  • 70 to 90 percent of women diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer will have a recurrence.




Ovarian Cancer National Alliance

National Council for Cancer Research

National Cancer Institute