Ovarian cancer accounts for four percent of all cancers diagnosed in women. One in seventy women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer at some time in her life, and one out of every hundred will die from it. Gynecology studies indicate that ovarian cancer causes more deaths than cervical or endometrial cancers combined. Symptoms do not appear until the disease is well advanced, which may help account for the disease’s disproportionate death rate.
Ovary Function. The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system. They are two small, almond-sized organs located in close proximity to the openings of the fallopian tubes on both sides of the uterus. The ovaries produce and store eggs. Every month, an ovary releases a mature egg. Once the egg leaves the ovary, it travels through the adjacent fallopian tube to the uterus. If fertilized, the egg attaches to the uterine lining and develops into a fetus.
Ovaries also produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones play important roles in menstruation, pregnancy and the ovulation cycle. They are also required for the production of secondary female sex characteristics such as breasts, body shape, and body hair.
Who’s at Risk?
The risk of ovarian cancer increases in women who are either postmenopausal or approaching menopause. Gynecology research indicates that the risk for developing epithelial tumors, the most common cancer of the ovaries, is at its highest after age seventy, and relatively rare before age forty.
Epithelial, Germ Cell, or Stromal Tumor?
Three types of ovarian cancer have been identified: epithelial, germ cell, and stromal. Epithelial tumors, which begin on the ovary surface, are the most common. Germ cell tumors are quite rare, and begin in the cells responsible for egg production. Stromal tumors are also rare. They begin in the supportive tissue of the ovaries.
As the disease progresses, ovarian tumor cells often spread to the abdominal lining (peritoneum) or to the diaphragm. Cancerous cells may also metastasize to more distant organs.
Ovarian Cancer Survival Rates
If caught in its early stages, ovarian cancer has a 95 percent five-year survival rate. Unfortunately, only 25 percent of ovarian tumors are diagnosed in their early stages. Most tumors are well advanced at the time of diagnosis. Overall, the five-year survival rate for the disease is only fifty percent.