As is often the case with the various forms of cancer, ovarian cancer, which is diagnosed in around 21,000 Americans each year, generally has no clear symptoms at first. This presents a major challenge to health care professionals, because early diagnosis is vital to treatment. Indeed, the survival rate in the early stages, before the tumor has spread, is more than double the overall survival rate for the disease, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
While it is called "the silent killer," ovarian cancer is not wholly asymptomatic, but the symptoms are not always strongly felt and are not specific to cancer—heartburn, back pain, frequent urination, gastrointestinal difficulties, and other symptoms could be any of a number of conditions, though gastrointestinal symptoms that grow steadily worse as opposed to fluctuating may indicate cancer.
Genetically, ovarian cancer is linked with breast cancer; the same genetic mutations that cause someone to be prone to one also indicate a heightened risk of the other, and a family history of either means risk of contracting both. Beyond that, ovarian cancer risk is tied to ovulation. Earlier menarche, later menopause, and not having children are all risk factors, though hormonal birth control can reduce the risk, as can breastfeeding. For similar reasons, fertility treatments and hormone treatment after menopause make ovarian cancer more of a threat.
Researchers have found that a diet high in vitamin A and fiber can help prevent ovarian cancer, as well as compounds called flavonols found in black tea and in citrus. One study also found that women who went up a skirt size in adulthood were one-third more likely to develop caner after menopause. Eating habits are also linked to mortality in people who do get ovarian cancer. In another study, people who had been eating healthily before being diagnosed had a 27 percent lower mortality rate over five years.
A new form of chemotherapy could help doctors fight ovarian cancer more effectively. The approach helps deliver chemo drugs with greater efficiency, making them better at shrinking tumors and allowing lower doses. This approach is expected to also be particularly effective on late-stage ovarian cancer.