Important facts you should know

Ovarian cancer is rare, especially in women trying to have a baby. Though a small number of young, reproductive-age women will receive this frightening diagnosis, it is important they learn about fertility preservation options, as well as alternatives for building their family.

Ovarian cancer is rare

Doctors diagnose approximately 22,000 American women each year, so it is a relatively rare cancer compared to the 266,000 women who will contract breast cancer in 2018. According to the American Cancer Society, the ovarian cancer lifetime risk for the women in the general population is less than 2%.

Ninety percent of women who get ovarian cancer are 40 years of age or older, with the majority over 60. It’s the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women, with 14,000 women dying from it yearly.

Learn to recognize a cluster of symptoms

Ovarian cancer symptoms tend to be similar to other types of problems a woman may experience. Unfortunately, the disease is often diagnosed late when it already has progressed to other organs. Symptoms might include:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • A desire to urinate or frequent urination

We urge women to consult their doctor when these symptoms persist. Women diagnosed in stage 1 or stage 2 have a 75 to 95 % chance of being cured, so early identification is crucial.

Ovarian cancer and younger women

Actress Cobie Smulders was only 25 when she learned she had the disease. But her doctor was able to treat her form of ovarian cancer with surgery, and she has since given birth to two children.

The types of ovarian cancer found in younger women typically are more treatable than the other versions affecting older women. They include borderline tumors, which are neither wholly benign nor cancerous, are slowly dividing, not likely to be invasive, and can be treated by surgery. Younger women also may develop germ cell tumors that begin in the egg cells of the ovary. If only one ovary is affected, a woman will still have use of her remaining one.

Treatment and fertility preservation

Like other types of cancer treatment, the cure may cause a woman to lose her fertility. Ovarian cancer treatment may result in the removal of both ovaries and other reproductive organs, such as the fallopian tubes and uterus. Chemotherapy may also render a woman infertile, or she may need to start it immediately and not be able to freeze eggs.

When a woman decides she is ready to start a family, we can offer her in vitro fertilization, egg donation, and surrogacy depending on the extent of her treatment and infertility.

BRCA gene carriers

Women who are carriers of the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene mutations, which put them at high risk for getting both ovarian and breast cancers, should seek counseling to discuss whether they should undertake preventive treatment, such as removing their ovaries, as well as their participation in infertility treatment.

Receiving an ovarian cancer diagnosis can be terrifying because often it is recognized and confirmed during the late stages of the disease when treatment options are limited, and a woman’s prognosis is poor. But more awareness of this condition can hopefully save lives if women seek help earlier. Additional education can help preserve fertility for the younger women who face this type of cancer.