Every year approximately 22,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and around 15,000 die from it. It is the ninth most common cancer among women, and the fifth highest cause of cancer death for women.
Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal malignant cells begin to form in the ovaries, which are the reproductive glands in a woman’s body that provide eggs during each month’s reproductive cycle. Once formed, these malignant cells can metastasize in two ways. The first – and most common way – is for them to metastasize directly to other organs in the pelvis and abdomen. The second is for them to metastasize through the blood stream or lymph nodes and then travel to other parts of the body.
Types of Ovarian Cancer
There are three main types of ovarian cancer, and they are named after the tissue in which they begin to form. The three types are: Epithelial tumors, Germ Cell Carcinoma tumors and Stromal Carcinoma tumors.
Epithelial tumors account for about 90% of ovarian cancers. The Epithelial is the thin layer of tissue that covers the ovaries. This type of ovarian cancer most often occurs in postmenopausal women, but it is not limited to them, and it is divided into the following categories: serous, mucinous, endometrioid, clear cell, transitional and undifferentiated types.
Germ Cell Carcinoma tumors make up about 5% of ovarian cancer cases, and this particular type begins in the cells that form eggs. It tends to be found most often in women in their early 20s, but it can occur in women of any age. The three most common kinds are: teratomas, dysgerminomas, and endodermal sinus tumors. It’s important to note that many tumors arising in these germ cells end up being benign.
Stromal Carcinoma tumors generally account for the remaining five percent of ovarian cancer cases. They develop on the connective tissue cells responsible for holding the ovaries together, as well as the tissue cells that produce the female hormones of estrogen and progesterone. The two most common types are granulosa cell tumors and sertoli-leydig cell tumors.
There are also various stages of ovarian cancer, which are determined based on how far the cancer has spread and what the resulting prognosis is:
- In stage I the cancer is limited to the ovaries.
- In stage II the tumor involves one or both ovaries and also extends to other pelvic structures.
- In stage III the tumor involves one or both of the ovaries and has either spread to the lining of the abdomen or the lymph nodes. There are also three sub stages within stage III that include additional conditions.
- In stage IV the tumor involves one or both ovaries and has distant metastases to other organs. Another indication of stage IV is when ovarian cancer cells are found in the excess fluid (pleural fluid) accumulated around the lungs.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer
It is not yet known what causes most ovarian cancers, but the disease has several typical signs and symptoms. Women are most likely to have these symptoms once the disease has spread beyond the ovaries, but earlier stages of the cancer can also cause them. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Pelvic and abdominal pain
- Urinary symptoms, including urgency and frequency
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Digestive issues
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer
It’s important to note that these symptoms are also commonly caused by non-cancerous diseases and cancers of other organs. If they are caused by ovarian cancer, they will be persistent and indicate a significant change from what a woman experiences on a regular basis.
Some other symptoms that can be linked with ovarian cancer, but are just as likely to be caused by other conditions include: fatigue, upset stomach, pain during sex, constipation, abdominal swelling with weight loss, menstrual changes, and back pain.
The diagnosis of ovarian cancer starts with a trip to your physician who will look for specific signs, such as an enlarged ovary or fluid around the abdomen. If symptoms arise, you will be sent to a specialist who may run a variety of different tests, such as:
- Imaging studies (CT scan, MRI)
- Barium Enema X-ray
- Chest X-rays
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET scan)
- Blood Test
Treatment of Ovarian Cancer
The choice of treatment depends largely on the type of cancer and the stage of the disease. Two options are available, surgery and chemotherapy or a combination of these. Recommendations for the best treatment option is with a multidisciplinary, and should involve consultation from a gynoncologic surgeon and an oncologist. Additional treatments are available.
There are clinical trials sponsored by the Nation Cancer Institute and several major cancer treatment institutions researching protocols to treat ovarian cancer. These carefully controlled research studies are done with patients who volunteer for them, And at no cost.
Should your oncologist recommend chemotherapy as part of your treatment, alternatives do exist for this type of treatment. These alternatives take into account not only the patient’s physical well-being but also their mental and spiritual health. In many cases, they are used in conjunction with conventional treatment methods as part of an integrative approach, using therapies from complementary medicine and conventional medicine to maximize quality of life while undergoing treatment. Nutrition, lifestyle changes, and complementary treatments/procedures, believed to facilitate both general health and well-being, along with chemotherapy, are what integrative medicine, and specifically integrative cancer treatment, is about.
The integrative approach to cancer treatment here includes Insulin Potentiation Therapy (IPT) , a method in which a hypoglycemic state, induced by insulin administration given in a safe and closely monitored setting, is believed to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy. This treatment is administered on a weekly basis (fractionated) and at a lower dose, significantly reducing toxicities normally associated with chemotherapy. The protocol is tailored for you, using appropriate chemotherapy drugs based on recommendations of conventional oncologic sources, such as the National Cancer Institute and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
Complementary treatment modalities include hyperbaric oxygen therapy, hyperthermia and high dose vitamin C infusions, among others.