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Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women, and it causes more deaths than any other type of female reproductive cancer.
Here are five things every woman should know about ovarian cancer.
The numbersSlide 2 of 11
Ovarian cancer is a relatively rare, but deadly, cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates 22,280 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, and 15,500 women will die of the disease. (For comparison, the NCI estimates that 226,870 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and 39,510 women will die of that disease this year.)
Overall, 1 in 72 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer during their lifetime.
Ovarian cancer is more often diagnosed in white women than in women of other races. In the U.S., there are 13.4 cases diagnosed yearly for every 100,000 white women, 11.3 cases per 100,000 Hispanic women, and 9.8 cases per 100,000 black or Asian women.
The overall 5-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 43.7 percent, but the survival rate varies greatly with the stage at which a woman is diagnosed. According to the NCI, 91.5 percent of patients diagnosed before the cancer has spread survive at least five years, whereas only 26.9 percent of those diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other sites in the body survive five years.Slide 3 of 11
Risk factors for ovarian cancerSlide 4 of 11
Risk factors for ovarian cancer
The single greatest risk factor for developing ovarian cancer is a family history of the disease, according to the NCI. A woman's risk of the disease triples if she has at least one first-degree relative (a mother, daughter or sister) with ovarian cancer.
One reason that risk tends to run in families is that certain families may have mutated versions of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. These mutations raise a woman's risk of ovarian cancer: 15 to 40 percent of women who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer over the course of their lifetime, whereas 1.4 percent of women in the general population will be diagnosed. Women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations typically develop ovarian cancer before age 50.
Still, 85 to 90 percent of ovarian cancer cases have no clear genetic link.
Fertility drugs, hormone replacement therapy after menopause, and obesity have also been linked with an increased risk of the disease. In general, a woman's risk of the disease rises with age.Slide 5 of 11
Ovulation and ovarian cancerSlide 6 of 11
Ovulation and ovarian cancer
A woman's risk of ovarian cancer seems to increase with the number of times over her life that she ovulates.
During ovulation, an egg is released from an ovary and swept into a fallopian tube — and recent research suggests that the fluid released from the ovary along with the egg contains growth factors and other molecules that damage the DNA of the nearby fallopian tube cells, said Dr. Ronny Drapkin, an assistant professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School. Furthermore, the evidence shows that the deadliest ovarian cancers, called high-grade serous cancers, actually begin when the cells at the ends of the fallopian tubes, not cells in the ovaries themselves, turn cancerous.
These findings explain the long-held observation that anything that lowers the number of times a woman ovulates also lowers her ovarian cancer risk, Drapkin said. Pregnancy, breast-feeding and birth control pills all temporarily halt ovulation, and studies have linked all of those factors to a decreased risk of ovarian cancer.Slide 7 of 11
SymptomsSlide 8 of 11