Ovarian cancer: what it is and what there is (still) to know

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Every year, millions of women around the world are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It is one of the most common forms of cancer in women, and the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women.

Since the early symptoms of ovarian cancer may be vague, and there is still no screening test, nearly 80% of new cases are already in an advanced stage by the time of diagnosis. Awareness of the disease then becomes essential to fight it. Here because September was proclaimed Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

Every year around this time, we have a crucial opportunity to honor those who have or have had the disease, spread the word and educate the public so that more and more people are aware of this particular form of cancer that kills about every year. 200 thousand women in the world.

Ovarian cancer is a cancer that begins in the ovaries or related areas of the fallopian tubes or peritoneum. Like all forms of cancer, ovarian cancer is a disease in which the body’s abnormal cells grow out of control. In this case, there are three common types of cells that cause ovarian cancer tumors to grow: epithelial cells (cells that cover the outer lining of the uterus), germ cells (cells that will become eggs), and stromal cells (cells that release hormones and connect the structures of the ovaries). As some reveal scientific research, 90% of ovarian cancers originate from epithelial cells.

This cancer can develop at any time in a female’s life, but it is much more common in older women. According to theAmerican Cancer Society (ACS), at least 50% of all ovarian cancers are found in women aged 63 years or older.

Other risk factors areobesity e inherited genes, especially the breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and the breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2), familiarity e previous illnesses. It has also been shown that hormonal therapies, such as the contraceptive pill, or fertility treatments they are linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

But how many women are there with ovarian cancer? The ACS has estimated that in the United States, in 2020, there were over 23,000 diagnoses of ovarian cancer and over 15,000 women died from this disease. In Italy, however, according to the data presented in report “The Numbers of Cancer in Italy, 2020”, by the Italian Cancer Registries Association (AIRTUM), ovarian cancer affects about 5,200 women every year. More generally, around the world, there are nearly 600,000 women living with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

The report “Global Cancer Statistics 2020”, produced in collaboration by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), shows that globally ovarian cancer accounts for approximately 3.4% of all female cancers, with a higher incidence in high and very high income countries (7.1%) than in low and middle income countries (5.8%).

However, it is studio conducted by the WHO Global Cancer Observatory predicts that by 2035 there will be a global increase in incidence of 55% and a 67% increase in deaths (we are talking about about 250,000 victims per year).

Although ovarian cancer is a rather rare cancer (it affects one in 82 women, compared to one in 8 in the case of breast cancer), it is also one of the deadliest. According to the AIRTUM, the five-year survival rate from diagnosis is 40% (compared to 87% for women with breast cancer).

This happens because ovarian cancer can be very difficult to detect and diagnose. Hence the nickname of the silent killer. Many of its symptoms are in fact similar to those caused by much less serious problems, such as indigestion and bloating, and often there are no alarm bells that can guide the patient in the discovery of the disease.

Furthermore, there are currently no scientifically reliable screening programs for the early diagnosis of ovarian cancer. THE standard gynecological checks (such as pelvic examination, Pap smear) are not used for early identification of this tumor.

Some cases are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread to the abdomen or another part of the pelvis. The problem is that once ovarian cancer has progressed beyond the ovaries it becomes much more difficult to treat. That said, when the cancer remains in the ovaries, doctors have a better chance of successfully treating it with surgery and chemotherapy.

Treatment options for ovarian cancer depend on its stage and the general health of the affected woman. Typically, the surgery plays a leading role in the treatment of this tumor; so much so that, when the disease is in its initial stage, the intervention is curative in about 70% of cases. However, the risk of the cancer returning remains high (25-30%). For this reason, in some cases it is chosen to use the adjuvant chemotherapy; that is, after surgery.

The first and most immediate cure is then the knowledge of this disease. Ovarian cancer awareness is so crucial because of how much difference early detection makes in survival rates. In other words, greater knowledge of the disease, and better education about potential symptoms can save lives.

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