Among women in the United States, ovarian cancer is the 8th most common cancer, and 5th most common cause of cancer deaths. Although far less common than breast, colon, or prostate cancer, ovarian cancer has a much higher death rate. Why? Because there is no screening test, and most women experience few symptoms until they have advanced stages of the disease. The combination often proves deadly.
According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 21,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008, and more than 15,000 will die. Worldwide there are more than 190,000 new cases of ovarian cancer each year, accounting for around 4% of all cancers diagnosed in women. Incidence rates vary considerably, with the highest rates in the USA and Northern Europe and the lowest rates in Africa and Asia. The World Health Organization has recently launched a campaign to reduce incidence and mortality of cancer worldwide.
As with many other cancers, early detection greatly enhances ovarian cancer survival rates, but without a reliable early detection technique, many women are only diagnosed at a relatively advanced stage. Pap smears do not detect ovarian cancers. The Centers for Disease Control information sheet on ovarian cancer is available here.
Once diagnosed, women too often do not get proper treatment. In 2006, the National Cancer Institute announced that a combination of intravenous paclitaxel and intraperitoneal cisplatin following surgery was the preferred treatment for advanced ovarian cancer. This IV/IP treatment has prolonged survival rates by more than a year. At the time, experts predicted that the cancer institute action would lead to widespread changes in treatment. Increadibly, two years later, only a small percentage of newly diagnosed women are given IV/IP treatment. This despite the more than $2 billion spent annuany on treating ovarian cancer.
But the news is not all bad. At the April meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, a Yale Medical School team led by Dr. Gil Mor (left) announced that they had identified, characterized and cloned ovary cancer stem cells, and demonstrated that these stem cells are likely responsible for recurrences and resistance to chemotherapy.
There is currently a petition to convince the US Postal Service to issue an Ovarian Cancer Awareness Stamp. I am not sure how that will help, but I guess anything that raises awareness is a good thing.
(Cross-posted on BioLaw blog)