March is Ovarian cancer awareness Month.
Ovarian cancer is the 6th most common gynaecological malignancy in the UK. Over 7,000 cases are diagnosed yearly but only 35% of those women survive for 10 years or more. This is because ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed late, when patients are in stage III and IV of cancer. This makes treatment difficult, recurrence common and resistance to drugs frequent.
There are four symptoms for ovarian cancer:
Experiencing these symptoms regularly over a prolonged period could be a sign of ovarian cancer. You may notice these symptoms are not very specific to ovarian cancer and typical "Oh it will clear up on it's own" symptoms people usually don't go to the doctor for. If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms you should chat to your doctor about them. You may feel a little foolish and it may be nothing but it's worth a little bit of piece of mind. The highest incidence of ovarian cancer is in older women (70+) but as we all know cancer can effect you regardless of age.
Another indicator of ovarian cancer is CA-125. CA-125 is a protein coded by the gene MUC16. It is produced by epithelial cells in the female reproductive tract. In some ovarian cancers, CA-125 is over expressed and released into the blood. There it can be detected. high levels of CA-125 are associated with ovarian cancer diagnosis. This is known as a biomarker (i.e. a molecule that can be detected which indicates cancer). However this is not 100% cancer specific. Other disease in the ovaries/uterus can lead to the release of CA-125. Further diagnostic tests such as ultrasound and/or CT scan are needed.
There is a heritable genetic element to ovarian cancer. Some of you might recognise BRCA as a key mutation in breast cancer (most notably Angelina Jolie had a prophylactic double mastectomy). BRCA mutations are also associated with increased ovarian cancer risk. It is important for BRCA carriers to not only be monitored for breast cancer but also ovarian cancer.
Depending on your stage, the most common treatments for ovarian cancer are surgery and chemotherapy. Occasionally women will receive chemotherapy before surgery (known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy). Radiotherapy is also a treatment option. Unlike other cancers where there are more targeted therapies available (for example tamoxifen for ER+ breast cancer) to date the only targeted therapies for ovarian cancer are in clinical trial stages. This reduces the options for women who develop resistance to primary chemotherapy, such as platinum-based chemotherapeutics.
There is a genetic element to ovarian cancer. Some of you might recognise BRCA as a key mutation in breast cancer (most notably Angelina Jolie had a prophylactic double mastectomy). BRCA mutations are also associated with increased ovarian cancer risk.
Now for the positive! There are people (great, amazing and talented people) across the world currently working on ways to detect ovarian cancer sooner, treat ovarian cancer better and ultimately save women's lives. I personally know a lot of these people. I work on the same floor as the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre and am one of the very few who don't work on ovarian cancer on this floor (sorry). I can tell you from first hand experience, these people work their butts off and are incredibly passionate about beating ovarian cancer. If you trust anyone, I would trust these people because they to me are incredible and dedicated. Every year Ovarian Cancer Action hosts a "Walk in her Name" charity walk to raise vital funds for ovarian cancer research. This is where the money raised goes - to beating Ovarian Cancer.
If you want to know more about Ovarian Cancer Action follow them on twitter or check out their website:
If you want to take part in "Walk in Her Name" or donate:
All Ovarian Cancer Statistics and information is from:
My name is Caitriona and I am a PhD student at Imperial College London, UK.