Ovarian Cancer - Medical Malpractice Lawyers
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Ovarian cancer is a malignancy that can spread to other tissues and organs including the peritoneum and the diaphragm and can also enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system and travel to other parts of the body. Between one and two women in every thousand develop this disease and delay in diagnosis or treatment is often as a result of medical malpractice resulting in thousands of clinical negligence settlements every year. The cause of this illness is unknown however the following factors may increase the chance of developing this disease :-
- family history of carcinoma is associated with increased risk
- first-degree relatives of a woman who has suffered this illness are at increased risk
- risk increases with age and occurs most often in women over the age of 50
- women who have had breast or colon cancer have a greater chance of developing cancer of the ovaries
- women who have never had children are more likely to develop cancer of the ovaries than women who have had children
- hormone replacement therapy may cause an increased risk
- fertility drugs may increase the risk
Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect in its early stages and women often have no symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage. Signs and symptoms may include:
- nausea, diarrhoea, constipation or frequent urination
- abdominal pain or discomfort
- loss of appetite
- weight loss or gain
- bloated sensation even after a light meal
- abnormal vaginal bleeding
Diagnosis of ovarian cancer may involve tests and physical examination including :-
- examination of the vagina, uterus, ovaries, bladder, fallopian tubes, and rectum to find any abnormality
- biopsy using laparoscopy techniques to remove samples of tissue for testing at which time the entire ovary may be removed
- ultrasound which can distinguish between healthy tissues, cysts and tumours
- blood tests to measure chemicals indicative of ovarian cancer
Ovarian Cancer Overview
Ovarian cancer usually occurs in a woman who is over the age of 55 and who has not had any children in the past. They often have a family history of cancer and develop vague symptoms of abdominal pain, increased urination, back pain, leg pain, unexpected vaginal bleeding and increased satiety. Because there are no screening tests for ovarian cancer, it is difficult to find an ovarian cancer in its early stages.
The ovaries are the hormonal parts of a female's reproductive system. There are two ovaries located in the pelvis at the end of the fallopian tubes on either side of the uterus. They produce estrogen and progesterone and are the egg-producing part of the female's reproductive system as well. Cancer occurs when a single cell begins to grow out of control, forming a tumour or mass within the ovary. New cells are forming all of the time and old cells do not die as programmed. This creates the cancer. There can be benign or cancerous tumours of the ovary so you need to have special tests to decide which kind of mass you have.
Malignant tumours are cancerous and are much more severe than benign tumours. They are often life threatening and have a reasonably high death rate. The cells can metastasize or travel to other body areas, including the other ovary, the fallopian tubes, the peritoneum and bowels. Malignant tumours can often grow back, even when the doctor believes that the entire tumour was removed. In ovarian cancer, it is common for the ovaries to shed cells from the surface of the tumour and to spread those cells within the abdominal cavity via the blood stream or the lymphatic system. Areas as far away as the chest and lungs can be involved with ovarian cancer.
No one knows exactly why one woman gets ovarian cancer while another woman with the same risk factors does not. Certain risk factors, on the other hand, need to be paid attention to. If you have a family member close to you who has had ovarian cancer, you have an increased risk of developing the cancer, too. The same is true if you have family members who have had breast cancer, colon cancer, uterine cancer or rectal cancer. Cancers happening at a young age have a higher risk of giving you a risk for ovarian cancer than do cancers in older individuals. This suggests there is a genetic component to getting ovarian cancer.
If you have had cancer of another kind yourself, including colorectal cancer, breast cancer and uterine cancer, you are at a greater risk of getting ovarian cancer. This is especially true if you are over 55 years of age. If you have never been pregnant, your risk of ovarian cancer is higher. If you are on oestrogen-only peri-menopausal hormonal therapy, you are more likely to get ovarian cancer, particularly if you have taken it for more than ten years.
The main symptoms of ovarian cancer include abdominal, back or pelvic pain. There can be pain in the legs as well. Your abdomen is likely to swell or become bloated. You can have GI symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea or excess gas formation. You can feel exhausted much of the time. More rarely, you can have increased urination, shortness of breath, and unpredictable vaginal bleeding.
The diagnosis of ovarian cancer includes doing a careful history and physical exam. The mass on the ovary can be palpable. An ultrasound, CT scan or MRI scan of the abdomen and pelvis can show the mass and can help in staging the tumour as distant metastases may be found on these scans. A blood test for a CA-125 can be indicative of an ovarian cancer. A biopsy of the mass is the only true way of defining the presence of ovarian cancer and deciding which type of ovarian cancer is present. Biopsies can be done on the primary tumour or on suspected metastases.
Treatment of ovarian cancer can include surgery to remove the cancer, chemotherapy and radiation to the affected areas. Surgery is usually done first, followed by either chemotherapy or radiation or both.
LEGAL HELPLINE: ☎ 855 804 7125
The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here