The Silent Killer: Ovarian Cancer
Updated: Jul 25, 2021
Most cases are discovered at later stages due to its difficult detection, which is why ovarian cancer is often termed ‘The Silent Killer’
Author: Dina Babiker
Cancer has become one of the deadliest diseases of our time, and in Canada alone, it is responsible for the death of 30% of the population . Cancer can take on many forms and spread throughout the body by hijacking the circulatory and lymphatic systems . One of the deadliest forms of gynecological cancers and interest of this article is called ovarian cancer .
The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system that produce the eggs used in reproduction . They also release important hormones like progesterone and estrogen, which are considered primary female hormones . The Canadian Cancer Society estimated that 3100 Canadian women would be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2020, of which 1950 are estimated to die from the disease . It is also the 5th most prevalent cancer in women and it has 3 main common forms: epithelial, germ and stromal cell ovarian cancer . The most frequent form is the epithelial variant, which consists of cells that cover the ovaries, and it is the most invasive .
Ovarian cancer happens when cells in the ovaries start to divide uncontrollably and can either form a localized tumor or become metastatic and spread throughout the body [6,7]. Unlike other forms of cancer (e.g. breast cancer) that present physical symptoms, ovarian cancer can be very hard to diagnose because it does not necessarily have specific associated symptoms . It is common for women to develop cysts on their ovaries in their lifetimes, however, these cysts may or may not actually develop into ovarian cancer . Thus, oftentimes symptoms are attributed to other benign conditions, which can lead to delay in treatment . Additionally, screening for ovarian cancer is very hard as getting definitive diagnosis requires surgical procedures . Although there are pelvic exams that can be used to ensure healthy reproductive organs, it is often hard to feel ovarian tumors . There are also other tests, like blood tests to test for a tumor marker known as CA125; but unfortunately, there are many other conditions that can cause this marker, this makes it a very non-specific test . These were some of the reasons as to why only 15% of ovarian cancer is detected in an early stage . According to the Canadian Cancer Society, there is a 90%-95% chance of 5 year survival if ovarian cancer is detected early . Unfortunately, most cases are discovered at later stages due to its difficult detection, which is why ovarian cancer is often termed ‘The Silent Killer’ .
Kaz Shuji, Rhea Verma
Web design by Majd Al-Aarg
Cover photo provided by
Cancer.ca [Internet]. Toronto (ON): Canadian Cancer Society; 2020c. Cancer statistics at a glance; 2020 [cited 2020 Nov 15]. Available: https://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-101/cancer-statistics-at-a-glance/?region=on#:~:text=Cancer%20is%20the%20leading%20cause,women%20will%20die%20from%20cancer
Cancerresearchuk.org [Internet]. London (UK): Cancer Research UK; c2020. Body systems and cancer; 2020 [cited 2020 Nov 15]. Available: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/what-is-cancer/body-systems-and-cancer
Ahmed T [Internet]. Toronto (ON): Jackson Health System; c2020. Ovarian cancer: The deadliest form of gynecologic cancers; 2020 [cited 2020 Nov 15]. Available: https://jacksonhealth.org/blog/2016-09-07-ovarian-cancer-deadliest-gynecologic-cancer/#:~:text=Ovarian%20cancer%20is%20the%20deadliest,cancer%20related%20deaths%20in%20women
Cancer.ca [Internet]. Toronto (ON): Canadian Cancer Society; 2020c. Ovarian cancer statistics; 2020 [cited 2020 Nov 15]. Available: https://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/ovarian/statistics/?region=on
Brazier Y [Internet]. Brighton (UK): Medical News Today; c2020. What is ovarian cancer?; 2019 Sep 4 [cited 2020 Nov 15]. Available: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/159675#diagnosis
Cancer.org [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): American Cancer Society; 2020c. What is ovarian cancer?; 2020 [cited 2020 Nov 15]. Available: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/about/what-is-ovarian-cancer.html
Idph.state.il.us [Internet]. Chicago (IL): Illinois Department of Public Health; 2020c. Facts about ovarian cancer. 2020c [cited 2020 Nov 15]. Available: http://www.idph.state.il.us/cancer/factsheets/ovarian.htm#:~:text=The%20cells%20may%20form%20a,the%20intestines%2C%20liver%20and%20stomach
Ocrahope.org [Internet]. New York (NY): Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance; 2020c. Statistics; 2020c [cited 2020 Nov 15]. Available: https://ocrahope.org/patients/about-ovarian-cancer/statistics/#:~:text=Approximately%2015%20percent%20
Cancer.ca [Internet]. Toronto (ON): Canadian Cancer Society; 2020c. Survival statistics for ovarian cancer; 2020 [cited 2020 Nov 15]. Available: https://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/ovarian/prognosis-and-survival/survival-statistics/?region=on#:~:text=In%20Canada%2C%20the%205%2Dyear,for%20at%20least%205%20years
Galindo Y [Internet]. San Diego (CA): UC San Diego Health; 2020c. Unmasking a silent killer: Ovarian cancer; 2017 Sep 1 [cited 2020 Nov 15]. Available: https://health.ucsd.edu/news/features/pages/2017-09-01-unmasking-a-silent-killer-ovarian-cancer.aspx#:~:text=Ovarian%20cancer%20has%20been%20termed,woman’s%20body%20as%20she%20ages