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Ovarian Cancer

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Ovarian Cancer: The Caregiver's Role
By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 5)

Testing for the cancer isn’t that easy either. While regular pap tests can help screen for certain types of cancer, it isn’t a reliable indicator of ovarian cancer. Usually by the time a doctor can detect ovarian cancer with a pap smear, the cancer is already in advanced stages. Regular health exams, however, can help physicians determine if there are changes in the size of the ovaries or uterus. Tumors in the ovaries that are still in the early stages may not be detected early, though.

Women with several risk factors or a personal history of breast cancer could be screened with a vaginal ultrasound and possibly blood tests that screen for “tumor markers.” Tumor markers can include testing for increased amounts of CA-125 or a protein in the blood that is generally higher in women who have ovarian cancer. There are still many clinical trials to develop further lines of research along blood tests so that quicker methods of detection can be brought to light.


Surgery is usually one of the first lines of defense when fighting ovarian cancer. Surgical options depend heavily on how far the cancer has spread and the type of ovarian cancer that is present. Some of these options can include removal of one or both ovaries, a total hysterectomy – which includes removal of the uterus as well as the ovaries – or cutting away the tumors in the tissues, leaving as much of the reproductive system intact as possible.

One thing to remember is that once a surgeon starts to remove tissue, he needs to have approval to remove as much as he feels necessary in order to prevent the cancer cells from spreading. Cancer that is not removed can quickly spread as a result of the surgery. Discuss how much surgery needs to be performed, especially if the woman is still young enough and wants to continue bearing children after treating the cancer. Bear in mind that once the procedure starts, the surgeon may need to do more tissue removal than first anticipated. Discuss the possibility that the surgery will be more extensive than first anticipated.

Depending on the stage of the cancer and the success of the surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment may or may not be necessary. Chemotherapy uses high-powered medications to destroy cancer-causing cells in the body. Unfortunately, chemotherapy does not discriminate between cancer cells and non-cancer cells, so normal cells are often killed during treatment as well. There are a number of side effects of chemotherapy that include nausea, vomiting, anemia (low red blood cell count), hair loss, and decreased white blood cell and platelet counts. Medications are available to combat these side effects, with the exception of hair loss. Generally hair will begin to grow back after chemotherapy is completed.


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