Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the ovaries. Ovarian cancer is seldom detected at its early stages and is diagnosed at later stages, at which point it spreads to the pelvis and stomach, and becomes far more challenging to treat. 75% of women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer have usually reached stage III or IV, due to lack of awareness about early symptoms. Ovarian cancer, especially epithelial ovarian cancer is the deadliest of gynecological cancers, with the 5 year survival rate scarcely touching 20%. Fortunately, however, ovarian cancer is relatively rare, affecting around 1.2% of people with ovaries. With early detection and treatment, ovarian cancer can be managed long- term (Conrad- Stöppler, 2020).
While this form of cancer was recognized by physicians as early as the 19th century, the (predominantly male) doctors did not maintain proper records of symptoms of the disease, which resulted in ovarian cancer being discovered only in retrospect. By characterizing it as a ‘silent killer’, the medical profession largely did not pay attention to this form of cancer, even though early detection of this form of cancer results has an optimistic prognosis. Even at a time when radical surgery was recommended for breast cancer, ovarian cancer was seen as ‘absolutely inoperable”. Right up till the 20th century, ovarian cancer was not brought up during cancer awareness campaigns. However, by the late 20th century, the women’s health movement combined with increased research has led to the identification of the genetic precursors as well as the early symptomatology of ovarian cancer (Jasen, 2009).
Despite the severity and seriousness of this cancer, there are still no screening tools available for this form of cancer. Upon diagnosis, women usually need specialized care from a gynecological oncologist. If such care is not available, then treatment outcomes are significantly poorer. However, and article by Cancer World (2019) notes that there is a notable ‘gender gap’ in oncology. Coupled with the fact that as a less common form of gynecological cancer (as opposed to breast or uterine cancer) attracts less research attention, outcomes of people with ovarian cancer remain poor on the whole.
Many narratives of people with ovarian cancer include stories of symptoms being misdiagnosed due to poor awareness of health care providers, causing prolonged distress. Further, many physicians also display a dismissive attitude toward complaints of symptoms, further compounding the suffering of ovarian cancer patients (Jasen, 2009)
To conclude, despite advances in the treatment of cancer over the past decades, the conceptualization of ovarian cancer as a silent killer has led it to be excluded from mainstream awareness programs and research, adversely impacting health outcomes for many people with the illness.
Conrad- Stöppler, M. (2020). Ovarian Cancer Symptoms, Signs, Stages &; Survival Rate. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from https://www.medicinenet.com/ovarian_cancer/article.htm
Gender gap in oncology and in scientific research is actionable (2019). Retrieved from https://cancerworld.net/cancerworld-plus/gender-gap-in-oncology-and-in-scientific-research-is-actionable/
Jasen P. (2009). From the "silent killer"; to the "whispering disease": ovarian cancer and the uses of metaphor. Medical history, 53(4), 489–512. Retrieved from: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/medical-history/article/from-the-silent-killer-to-the-whispering-disease-ovarian-cancer-and-the-uses-of-metaphor/4E7950498E790A4AF57CF42F4FF54FBE