Study: Younger Women May Have Better Chances of Surviving Ovarian Cancer (dateline January 21, 2007)
A recent study finds that younger women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer may be more likely to survive the disease than older women. In the study, women under age 30 were most likely to survive five years after a diagnosis of ovarian cancer while women over age 60 were the least likely to survive. The researchers are unsure of the reason for this finding. The study results differ from breast cancer; where young women tend to be diagnosed with more aggressive forms of breast cancer for which their chances of survival are lower.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 20,000 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed this year, and approximately 15,000 women will die from ovarian cancer this year. Ovarian cancer is often called the silent killer because its symptoms can be subtle, leading to a delayed diagnosis and poorer outcome. However, if ovarian cancer is detected early, approximately nine out of ten women will live for at least five years with the disease.
To study survival rates among women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Dr. J.K. Chan and his colleagues at Stanford University in California examined 28,165 medical records diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer between 1988 and 2001. The results of their study found that very young women had a significant survival advantage over the young and older groups. Specifically, 79% of women younger than age 30 who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer were still alive five years later, 59% of women between the ages of 30 and 60 survived five years, and 35% of women over age 60 survived for five years. The researchers do not know the reasons for the differences in survival times.
Like many cancers, ovarian cancer can be highly treatable if detected in early stages. However, many cases of ovarian cancer are not diagnosed until advanced stages. This is because the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be very subtle ("silent") or unnoticeable until the disease has progressed significantly. Symptoms of ovarian cancer include pelvic/abdominal pain, gastrointestinal problems, frequent urination, changes in bowel habits, weight gain or loss, pain during sexual intercourse, fatigue, leg pain, or unusual vaginal bleeding. If any of these symptoms persist, women should inform their physicians and undergo clinical examination.
While the majority of women who develop ovarian cancer have no known risk factors for the disease, researchers have identified a few factors that increase a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer. These factors include advancing age, family history and genetics, early onset of menstruation (before age 12) or late menopause (after age 50), having a first child after age 30 or never having children, or having breast cancer.