A Better Way to Detect Ovarian Cancer In Latinas?
If you’re experiencing daily bloating, sharp pelvic pains and/or stomach aches for more than 2 or 3 weeks (and not just after a big meal!) you may want to consider making an appointment with your gynecologist and asking for a pelvic exam. Bloating could signal fluid build up in your abdominal cavity, and that might be a sign of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is sometimes called the “silent killer” because its symptoms—bloating, abdominal aches, heartburn, feeling full quickly, sharp pelvic pain, and the frequent need to urinate—are so often mistaken for something else less fatal. Latinas have the second highest rate of ovarian cancer in the country behind non-Hispanic whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And many times when compared to other cancers affecting Latinas, ovarian cancer survival rates are much lower because it is often found in the more advanced stage.
“Advanced ovarian cancer, where the cancer has already spread to other organs, can cause bloating because a liquid, called ascites fluid, is produced. This may result in a few extra liters of fluid in the abdominal cavity, which can make the patient feel bloated or pregnant,” explains Diane Yamada, MD, Chief, Gynecologic Oncology, University of Chicago Medical Center. “Presumably, bloating may also be caused by extensive cancer sitting on the surface of the intestines.”
But there is new hope for Latinas to detect this disease. A recent study, done by researchers at Cornell University, discovered a likely origin of ovarian cancer. Locating where the cancer might originate and reside are keys to reversing our statistics for survival because up until now, tests for early detection—from ultra sounds, CT scans, even MRIs—have been unreliable, providing false positives and negatives. Exploratory surgery, thus far, has been the only way to know for sure.
The reason it’s been a tricky disease to diagnose ? Some ovarian cancers are known to hide out in the connection area between two types of epithelium (layers of tissue that line the body and organs to form glands), while others originate in epithelial tissue stem cells. Armed with this knowledge, the researchers discovered that ovarian cancer frequently originates from stem cells found in a niche (a micro-environment where stem cells are found) that lies in a connection area known as the hilum region.
“Hilum is the area of the ovary where nerves and blood vessels enter the organ; the ovarian surface epithelium connects with [the] mesothelium, which is another type of cell [membrane],” explains Alexander Nikitin, professor of pathology, leader of the Cornell Stem Cell Program and one of the study’s senior researchers. “Such connection is called junction region and that is where cancer-prone stem cells are located.”
Implications for these findings are three-fold, says Nikitin. This new research provides doctors with the exact location in which to look for cancerous cells. ”If you know from which cells cancer arises, you can study normal cells and try to understand what makes such cells become malignant. And, knowing where early cancer lesions are located will also facilitate their detection by doctors during various imaging procedures, such as laparoscopy or magnetic resonance imaging,” he says. ”Since a majority of patients can be cured of ovarian cancer in its early stages, such findings may have significant clinical impact.”
There are four stages of ovarian cancer: In stage one, the cancer is confined to one or both ovaries; in stage two, the cancer has spread to the uterus or fallopian tubes; in stage three it spreads beyond the pelvic area into the lymph nodes within the abdomen and in stage four, the last stage, it spreads to other major organs such as the liver or lungs.
“Ovarian cancer often causes signs and symptoms, so it is important to pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you,” says Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Senior Director of Medical Services for Planned Parenthood Federation of America in an interview. And if something veers from your norm, don’t hestitate to contact your doctor.