Like all cancers, ovarian cancer begins with the uncontrolled growth of cells in a certain part of the body. According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is believed to begin in the fallopian tubes before spreading to the ovaries, the female reproductive glands located inside the uterus. As the ACS describes, there are three main types of cell in the ovary, and tumors can form on each of them. Epithelial tumors grow on cells covering the ovary’s exterior surface and constitute the majority of ovarian tumors. Germ cell tumors begin developing in the cells that create ova, or eggs. Stromal tumors develop on the ovary’s connective tissues, or stromal cells, which also produce estrogen and progesterone.
In some cases, tumors that form in the ovaries are benign, and pose no risk of spreading throughout the patient’s body. But sometimes, unfortunately, they are either malignant or have the potential to become malignant. This is what makes early diagnosis of ovarian cancer so important. Survival rates for ovarian cancer decrease as the cancer spreads, meaning that delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis can have fatal consequences for the patient. According to the ACS, ovarian cancer is the fifth-highest cause of cancer-related deaths in women. In 2021, the disease is expected to be diagnosed in 21,410 women, and 13,770 are expected to lose their lives to it. On average, women have a one in 78 chance of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, although incidence rates have been declining over the last several decades.
What Causes Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer’s causes are still largely a mystery to science. Some researchers believe the disease may be linked to ovulation, male hormones, and gene mutations. There is a slightly better understanding of risk factors associated with the disease, though the American Cancer Society notes that more is known about the risks associated with the development of epithelial tumors than the risk of developing germ cell or stromal tumors. According to the ACS, those risk factors include being overweight or obese; having children after age 35 or never carrying a pregnancy to term; using fertility treatment; smoking; taking hormone therapies post-menopause; family history of ovarian cancer; family history of breast cancer; family history of colorectal cancer; and certain hereditary syndromes, like hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC), hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome.
While the causes and risk factors are ill understood, there are still a few known strategies to reduce one’s risk of developing developing epithelial ovarian cancer. These preventative measures include maintaining a healthy weight; not taking hormone therapies post-menopause; using oral contraceptives; and certain gynecologic surgeries.
What Are Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, early signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating; pelvic or abdominal pain; difficulty eating; feeling full without eating that much; and urinary urgency or frequency. The ACS notes that these symptoms are also associated with other benign conditions, but when associated with ovarian cancer they are usually “persistent and a change from normal.” Other symptoms include fatigue; back pain; pain during intercourse; menstrual changes; constipation; and abdominal swelling with weight loss. The ACS also notes that these symptoms more commonly occur after ovarian cancer has spread, but may nonetheless occur in the disease’s early stages.
How Is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?
Statistics show that 94% of patients whose ovarian cancer is detected early live longer than five years after their diagnosis. Unfortunately, early detection is rare: according to the ACS, “only about 20% of ovarian cancers are found at an early stage.” This cancer is particularly challenging to detect; it’s not easily identifiable via pelvic exams or the tests used to find evidence of cervical cancer. Other commonly used screening test include the transvaginal ultrasound, which can identify masses in the ovaries (but cannot assess whether they’re cancerous), and the CA-125 blood test, which detects the presence of a protein associated with ovarian cancer. Because the symptoms of ovarian cancer often show up after the disease has spread, doctors recommend that patients promptly seek medical attention for possible symptoms, even if they’re also associated with more benign diagnoses.
One other unfortunate effect of the difficulties associated with detecting ovarian cancer is misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis. The failure to properly diagnose ovarian cancer can occur when medical practitioners fail to perform screening tests or improperly read test results; when they fail to take a patient’s full medical history, including a family history; when they fail to take the patient’s medical history, family history, and/or risk factors into consideration; when they fail to seek out second opinions about unclear test results; and when they fail to make referrals to specialists. Each of these failures can put the patient at risk of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, which can in turn affect the patient’s chances for survival.
What Can I Do If a Doctor Failed to Diagnose My Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is difficult but crucial to detect in its early stages. If your medical practitioner negligently failed to diagnose your condition, you may be able to recover damages. Proving a medical malpractice claim can be highly complex, requiring experienced legal counsel and seasoned medical experts. The medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan have a long track record of success obtaining compensation for our clients in New York. Please reach out to our legal team today to schedule a free consultation.