SPOTLIGHT ON: OVARIAN CANCER
Adiagnosis of ovarian cancer can be scary for any woman, and with good reason. According to the American
Cancer Society, ovarian cancer causes more
deaths than any other cancer of the female
reproductive system. In Bermuda, ovarian
cancer is prevalent mostly in black women and
is one of the six most common cancers on the
island. But there is hope for preventing this
disease, and knowing the facts can help save
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a disease in which cancer
starts in one of the ovaries. However, new
studies suggest that some cases may originate
in the fallopian tubes.
When ovarian cancer is caught in its early
stages, there is about a 90 per cent survival
rate. Unfortunately, most women are first diagnosed in the advanced stages of the disease,
and the overall survival rate is low, typically
less than 20 per cent. However, research has
shown that women who use oral contraceptives (birth control pills) or who become
pregnant and choose to breastfeed can reduce
their risk of developing ovarian cancer.
What are the symptoms of ovarian
Symptoms can be hard to detect and may
resemble other medical conditions. They
include pelvic or abdominal pain, bloating
and a loss of appetite or feeling full. Patients
who experience these symptoms in increasing
frequency and severity should see a doctor.
Is there hope for preventing ovarian
There are currently no effective screening tests for ovarian cancer. Instead, the real
hope for prevention may lie in genetic testing.
Genes associated with ovarian cancer—
BRCA1 and BRCA2—can be detected
through a blood test. Women who have these
gene mutations have a high genetic risk of
developing the disease.
Doing population-based genetic testing for
BRCA is a very good idea. This means testing
all young women as opposed to only testing
women felt to be at high risk due to personal
or family history. There are thousands of wom-
en who have an undiagnosed BRCA mutation
gene and may develop ovarian cancer. This
risk-reducing interventions in women who test
positive. Hopefully, in the near future, we will
be able to offer genetic testing to all women.
The most effective risk-reducing strategy
to prevent ovarian cancer in women who are
genetically predisposed is removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries. This procedure can
prevent up to 96 per cent of cases. However,
it is not recommended in normal-risk women
because keeping the ovaries through natural
menopause reduces the risk of other health
conditions, such as osteoporosis and heart
In addition, surgical sterilization by tubal ligation at the end of child-bearing age is known
to decrease the risk of ovarian cancer.
Content courtesy of Rebecca L. Stone, M.D.,
M.S., assistant professor of gynecology and
obstetrics at the Johns Hopkins University
School of Medicine. The content was reproduced
with permission of the office of marketing and
communications for Johns Hopkins Medicine
International. Additional reuse and reprinting
is not allowed. The information aims to educate
readers and is not a substitute for consultation
with a physician.
New Hope in Preventing