A Gynecologist Answers our Questions about Ovarian Cancer

Community Member

It is known as the "silent killer."   Ovarian cancer is frightening to so many women because there generally are little to no symptoms in the early stages of the disease.   More than half of women are diagnosed when they are already in the advanced stages of this type of cancer.   According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention   (CDC) ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer and the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women in the United States.   The most recent estimates from the American Cancer Society say that in 2009 there were 14,600 deaths from ovarian cancer.   So what can we do?   One way to prevent ovarian cancer from claiming more lives is to educate women about possible warning signs of this type of cancer.

In order to provide our members with such information, I have asked for guidance from an OB/GYN who has experience with diagnosing ovarian cancer.   Patients know him as Doctor Kim and he has been in practice since 1995.   Not only has Doctor Kim diagnosed patients with this type of cancer, he has also been affected by it in his personal life.   One of his colleagues, a young pediatrician who was only thirty years old, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died three months later.   So he understands all too well the emotional loss of losing someone to this type of cancer.

Thank you Doctor Kim, for taking the time to answer our questions.

What are the early warning signs of ovarian cancer?

Mostly it progresses without initial signs because the ovary is in the abdominal cavity.   So 70% of ovarian cancer is discovered at the third stage.

(For our readers I am going to add onto what Doctor Kim says with this vital information)

According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund,   the most common symptoms are:

  • A sense of bloating, with vague but persistent and unexplained gastrointestinal complaints
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Unexplained change in bowel habits
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss
  • New and unexplained abnormal postmenopausal vaginal bleeding
  • Frequent or urgent urination

When should one come to see the doctor based upon these early warning signs?

Abdominal pain, abdominal distension, and irregular vaginal bleeding are major symptoms which require immediate attention.   Dyspepsia (indigestion), appetite decrease, premenstrual tension, severe breast tension, menorrhageia (abnormally heavy or prolonged menstruation) and functional uterine bleeding may also be symptoms for ovarian cancer and should be checked by a doctor.

Is there any sort of test or screening for ovarian cancer?

A pelvic-rectal exam to feel for tumors, vaginal sonography and CA125 blood test.

Is there any way to prevent ovarian cancer?

Regular exams with your gynecologist can help and taking oral contraceptives can be helpful because the pill prevents ovulation.

Note:   The American Cancer Society agrees that oral contraceptives can help prevent ovarian cancer: "Women who used oral contraceptives for 5 or more years have about a 50% lower risk of developing ovarian cancer compared with women who never used oral contraceptives."

Who is most at risk for ovarian cancer?

If you have a family history of ovarian cancer you are more than ten times more likely to get this type of cancer than if you have no history of this in your family.   You are more at risk if you are over 40 years old and especially over 60 years old.   Women who suffer from obesity are also more at risk. Women who have experienced infertility and have not given birth are at a higher risk as well. Women who have other types of cancer:   Breast cancer, endometrial cancer, cancer or the uterus and rectal cancer may also have a higher incidence of having ovarian cancer.

What is the typical treatment for Ovarian Cancer?

The primary treatment is surgery with chemotherapy dependent on the tumor size, growth rate, type of tumor, stage, and patient condition.

What is the survival rate for ovarian cancer?

The survival rate is different for each stage.   A five year survival rate is:

For stage 1     76-93%

For stage 2:   60-74%

For stage 3:   23-41

For stage 4:     11%

For more information about ovarian cancer we have a full index of articles about this topic on our ovarian cancer information page.   You may also find information and guidance from the American Cancer Society.   Please do not hesitate to ask questions of your doctor if you have any concerns.   If you are experiencing any worrisome symptoms write your symptoms down and schedule an appointment with your doctor.   When caught early the chances for survival are far better.   So don't delay talking to your doctor.   It could save your life.