Mutated Gene Triples Women’s Risk of Ovarian Cancer



New research shows women with a mutated gene are 3 times more likely to get ovarian cancer

Did you know a woman’s risk of developing invasive ovarian cancer is 1 in 75? Women over 50 years of age are more likely to get cancer than younger women.

It is the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths, and the fifth most common type of cancer. It begins in the ovaries, which are located in the pelvis on each side of the uterus.

Women who have never had children are at a higher risk. An oddly, some studies show that women who use talcum powder in their genital area have a higher chance of developing ovarian cancer.


How Ovarian Cancer Develops

There are many types of tumors that start in the ovaries. Some are not cancerous (benign), and do not spread outside of the ovary. These types of tumors are easily treated by taking out the whole ovary or part of it that has the tumor. Some of the tumors are however cancerous (malignant) and can spread to the rest of the body. These are the ones this article will focus on. They need specialized treatment to control and possibly eliminate.

Tumor Classification

The tumors whether they are benign or malignant are classified to three categories according to the cells they formed from. Removal of ovaries and Fallopian tubes can help prevent cancer in women who are at a higher risk.

  • Germ Cell Tumors – These originate from the cells that produce eggs
  • Stromal Tumors – These originate cells that produce female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, and hold the ovary together
  • Epithelial Tumors – These form majority of the ovarian tumors and are divided to malignant, low malignant potential and benign tumors

The benign epithelial tumors do not spread and are not cancerous nor do they lead to serious illness.

The low malignant potential tumors do not resemble cancerous tumors when viewed under the microscope. They are also referred to as borderline epithelial cancer cells. They are common in young women and are never life threatening. Their growth and rate of spread is slow.

The malignant epithelial ovarian tumors are the most prevalent ovarian cancer cells. Most people with ovarian cancer have this type of cancer cells. These can be further subdivided depending on specific features.

BRIP1 Gene Mutation

Some women have a greater risk of getting cancer than others. According to a study done on Caucasian women, those who inherited a mutated copy of the BRIP1 are at a greater risk of ovarian and breast cancer.

There is an ongoing research on the extent of the impact associated with this mutation. Currently, studies indicate that those with the BRIP1 mutation have a 5.8% chance of getting ovarian cancer as opposed to 1.8% for those who do not.

There isn’t any national guideline that has been set to deal with this discovery. The best way to deal with it is to consult genetic experts. If there is any cancer history within the family you will be advised on the proper cause of action.

Related: 15 Early Warning Signs for Ovarian Cancer

Factors Associated with Ovarian Cancer

There are important factors that either promote or lower the risk of ovarian cancer. Those that are linked to increased risk of ovarian cancer are:

  • Obesity
  • Increasing age
  • After menopause
  • Family history of Ovarian Cancer
  • Family history of breast or colon cancer
  • Family cancer genetic syndrome influencing mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • Breast Cancer- Those who have had breast cancer have an increased chance of getting ovarian cancer

Factors linked to lower risk of ovarian cancer:

  • Breast feeding
  • Tubal ligation (having the Fallopian tubes tied)
  • Birth control pills
  • Low fat diet
  • The contraceptive injection depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA or Depo-Provera CI®)
  • Removal of only the uterus and leaving the ovaries

If one is predisposed to contract ovarian cancer, the above factors can be used to help them mitigate the risk of contracting ovarian cancer.

How Ovarian Cancer is diagnosed

Only 1 out of every 5 cases of ovarian cancer is diagnosed early. For those who have been diagnosed early, 9 out of 10 live on for more than 5 years after receiving treatment.

The best way to safeguard against ovarian cancer is to have regular checks when you notice the symptoms. No screening tests are recommended yet because they have not been shown to lower the risk of dying from ovarian cancer. What they do is help identify it for early treatment. It is the early treatment that may help to manage the cancer with treatment.

Ovarian Cancer Stages

Doctors use a four staging system for ovarian cancer. This staging system is named FIGO, after the International Federation of Gynecological Oncologists who authored it. These stages help doctors to decide the best treatment to recommend. The stages are determined by tests and scans.

  • Stage 1: cancer is in the ovary
  • Stage 2: cancer has grown outside the ovaries
  • Stage 3: The cancer has grown outside the are surrounded by the hip-bones to the abdomen
  • Stage 4: Means the cancer has spread some distance from the ovary to other body organs

Each of the first 3 stages are subdivided into three additional stages as follows:

Stage 1

  • Stage 1a: The cancer is confined inside the ovary
  • Stage 1b: The cancer is confined inside both ovaries
  • Stage 1c: One or both of the ovaries have cancer and also on the ovary surface.

There could also be cancer cells in the fluids taken from the abdominal during surgery or when rupture of the ovaries occurs during or before surgery.

Stage 2

  • Stage 2a: The cancer is in the fallopian tubes and womb
  • Stage 2b: Organs in the pelvis such as the bladder have cancer
  • Stage 2c: Other abdominal tissues cells have cancer and there are cancer cells in the abdominal fluid

Stage 3

This stage means the cancer has gone into the abdomen and lymph system, groin, or behind the womb.

  • 3a: the cancer growth can be seen from tissue taken inside the abdomen
  • 3b: The abdomen lining has visible tumors, 2 cm or less
  • 3c: The abdominal lining has 2cm tumors, there are tumors in the lymph nodes of the upper abdomen, the back of the womb, and groin or both

Stage 4

This is the final stage where it has spread to other body organs like the liver or lungs. The cancer is rated to be in stage three if it is only on the surface of the liver and not within.

Ovarian Cancer Grading

The grading of the cancer gives doctors the idea of how fast the cancer is growing. It is determined by how the cancer cells look under the microscope and there are three grades.

  • Grade 1- they are well differentiated
  • Grade 2- they are moderately differentiated
  • Grade 3 they are poorly differentiated

Cancer cells that look like normal body cells are said to be well differentiated. These are less likely to spread fast and are called low grade cells. If they look less like normal body cells and they are underdeveloped, they are called high grade cells. These spread fast through the body.

Treating Ovarian Cancer

Your cancer care team will do some diagnostic tests before recommending one or more treatment options. The five main treatments for ovarian cancer are:

  • Chemotherapy- Uses drugs to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors
  • Hormone therapy- Uses hormone blocking drugs or hormones to fight cancer cells
  • Targeted therapy- targets cancer cells with minimal damage to normal cells
  • Radio therapy- Uses high-power x-rays to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors
  • Surgery- may involve removal of both the ovary and uterus to stop the cancer

In most cases, at least 2 different types of treatment are used. The type of treatment chosen depends on the type of cancer and it’s stage. If one did not have surgery as their first option, the exact stage of their cancer may not be known. In this case, treatment is based on other factors.

The available information that could influence the choice of treatment include whether you plan to have children, your general state of health and personal considerations. Age alone is not the only determining factor. Older women typically tolerate treatments better than expected.

Survival Rates

Doctors use survival rates to discuss a person’s prognosis or outlook. Many cancer patients ask for survival statistics of people who have had ovarian cancer. These survival statistics help many patients to cope with ovarian cancer.

The Five-Year Survival Rate

The 5-year survival rate refers to the percentage of cancer patients who live longer than five years after they are diagnosed. There are many cancer patients who live longer or even get cured.

These tests compare the observed survival rate of people without cancer to those with cancer for a period of five years. It assumes people are likely to die of other causes as well. This is a more accurate way of analyzing the impact of cancer on survival. In order to get the 5-year survival rate, doctors look at patients who received treatment at least five years ago. Any improvement in treatment since then may give people now being diagnosed with ovarian cancer better chances of survival.

For all types of ovarian cancer, the five year survival rate is 45%. Younger women who are under the age of 65 do better than older women. The five year survival rate increases to 92% when the cancer is diagnosed during stages 1A and 1B. Only 15% of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed at these early stages. This is why it is important to watch for symptoms.

Related: 15 Early Warning Signs for Ovarian Cancer

Can Ovarian Cancer be Prevented?

Scientists look at factors that promote cancer or reduce it. If the factors promote cancer, they are known as cancer risk factors. If they reduce the risk of cancer they are called protective factors. Avoiding the risk factors and increasing the protective factors will lower your chances of getting ovarian cancer. It does not mean, however, that the chances of getting ovarian cancer will be eliminated.

Ways to prevent cancer:

  • Avoid anything thing that causes cancer
  • Change lifestyles or eating habits
  • Take medicines that will treat precancerous conditions or keep it from starting
  • Watch out for symptoms to increase the chances of early diagnosis

How to Cope with Ovarian Cancer

The best way to start cancer management is to share your worries with a friend or a family member. You could also join a cancer support group. There are friends who may want to help you, but you should keep in mind that not everybody is a good listener.

Some people may try to tell you that you should not focus on your problems. They will advise you to be hopeful and have a positive attitude. It is good to have a positive attitude and to be hopeful. It is however the underlying negative issues causing the negative mood that should be addressed. This is the way to gain control over one’s feelings. All feelings about your cancer situation are valid and real, this includes the negative feelings. You should find a confidant who will be willing to listen to you talk about your feelings. Not someone who will be telling you how to feel. Imaginary feelings will not help anyone cope with ovarian cancer.

Other techniques to help you relax include relaxation exercises. The best among them is where you breathe deeply and visualize a beautiful scenery. You can also try systematically tensing and relaxing muscles. Brisk walking and moderate exercises recommended by your doctor will also help you achieve relaxation. Eating healthy foods known to have anti-cancer properties may also help in your recovery process.

We should all work together in the fight against ovarian cancer. This fight is not just for those who have been diagnosed with cancer. We can all contribute in this fight by being supportive to cancer patients and donating money to cancer research institutions. We can also help to share information about the factors that promote cancer, live a healthy lifestyle, and inspire others to do the same. In doing this, we will have made a positive contribution in the fight against ovarian cancer.