Ovarian Cancer (cont.)
Andrew Green, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
What is the prognosis of ovarian cancer?
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Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most deadly of the gynecologic cancers. Approximately 80% of patients will eventually die of the disease. However, survival in the short term is quite good, meaning many years. With the addition of IP chemotherapy, the survival of ovarian cancer has been significantly extended. According to recent studies, if a patient undergoes optimal debulking, followed by IP chemotherapy, then they have a greater than 50% chance to still be alive in 6 years. This is quite good compared to other advanced stage cancers. Even in the recurrent setting, epithelial ovarian cancer is often very sensitive to chemotherapy. The disease can often go in to complete remission (no detectable disease) many times. However, once it recurs, it is not curable and will continue to come back.
Germ cell and stromal tumors have a much better prognosis. They are often cured because they are more often detected at early stages.
Can ovarian cancer be prevented?
There is no known way to truly prevent ovarian cancer. One would think that removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries would prevent the disease but this is not always the case (primary peritoneal cancer can arise in the pelvis even after the ovaries have been removed). However, there are ways to significantly reduce your risk. If a woman takes birth control pills for more than 10 years, then her risk of ovarian cancer drops significantly. Tubal ligation has long been known to decrease the risk of ovarian cancer. Recently, removal of the entire tube has been shown to further decrease the risk. This procedure, called a salpingectomy, can be considered by any woman considering a tubal ligation. Removal of the ovaries does decrease the risk of cancer, but at the cost of increasing death due to heart disease and other causes. Currently this procedure is often saved for specific situations (genetic risk, family history) in patients under 60 to 65 years of age and is not used in the general population. Until recently, if a woman was close to menopause and was undergoing surgery, then the ovaries and tubes would be removed. The recent studies indicating that many of these cancers actually come from the fallopian tube, and the studies indicating that removal of even postmenopausal ovaries causes other problems has caused a significant shift in this philosophy. Certainly, the tubes should be removed at the time of hysterectomy for any woman. The need for removal of the ovaries is much more uncertain.
Genetic abnormalities are an exception to this recommendation. If a patient is positive for a BRCA or Lynch syndrome genetic defect (mutation), then the patient should strongly consider removal of her tubes and ovaries to decrease the chance of her getting a cancer. Women with these mutations are at a very high risk of ovarian cancer, and in this situation the risk of heart disease is not as significant as dying of one of these cancers. This can be planned at the end of child bearing, or at age 35. Each patient is recommended to discuss this with her doctor, or a genetic counselor.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/24/2013
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