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How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

A malignancy of the female reproductive system, ovarian cancer affects around 20,000 American women each year, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As explained by the Mayo Clinic, the illness typically impacts older women, over the age of 50, although young women still experience some risk. This article will take a closer look at the condition, explaining how it is diagnosed, before outlining the importance single-use medical tools in a clinical setting. 

What is ovarian cancer?
The term ovarian cancer refers to any kind of malignancy that forms in the ovaries. As detailed by the Mayo Clinic, the ovaries produce eggs for fertilization. There are two ovaries in the female reproductive system. Healthline noted that several types of cells constitute the ovaries, and that cancer can develop in any of them. The cell types are stromal, germ and epithelia. Most of the ovary is made of stromal cells. The source elaborated that there is one particularly common form of ovarian cancer, which can account for up to 89 percent of all cases of the disease – Epithelial Carcinoma of the Ovary. Other types of ovarian cancer include Stromal Cell Cancer of the Ovary and Germ Cell Cancer of the Ovary. These forms of the disease typically respond better to treatment. 

Ovarian cancer is particularly dangerous, as it rarely produces symptoms during its early stages. This is especially true for Epithelial Carcinoma of the Ovary. Consequently, as outlined by the Mayo Clinic, patients often do not know there is a problem until the illness has spread beyond the original site. Metastatic ovarian cancer, as it is known, carries a poor prognosis and high mortality rates. 

There are some early stage symptoms, however, that if observed soon enough, could lead to more promising treatment outcomes. Healthline explained that some of the most common signs include pain in the pelvic area, problems eating and feeling full quickly, feeling bloated and the need to urinate. Patients may also experience additional symptoms including tiredness and fatigue, weight loss, bleeding from the vagina, indigestion and back pain. While all of these signs can be indicative of other conditions, individuals are encouraged to seek medical help if they persist for a couple of weeks or more. 

"Ovarian cancer is particularly dangerous, as it rarely produces symptoms during its early stages."

Treatment efficacy depends on the type of cancer and its stage – the earlier the disease is caught, the better the prognosis. The CDC explained that in most cases the illness is tackled with surgery, followed by rounds of chemotherapy.

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
All ovarian cancer diagnoses begin with a pelvic exam, the American Cancer Society reported. This procedure is performed by a gynecologist, who will use a device known as a vaginal speculum. This tool, which is typically warmed prior to use, is inserted into the vagina, the Mayo Clinic outlined. The design of the instruments allows for it to expand, opening the vaginal walls, which in turn facilitates better views of the patient's cervix for the doctor. The medical professional will then examine the area, looking for any signs that could indicate the presence of cancer.

A physical exam will follow, wherein the doctor inserts two fingers into the vagina and feels the ovaries and uterus area. While the physical exam may alert a physician to the possible presence of cancer, a definitive diagnosis cannot be provided at this stage. Rather, blood tests are often taken. These tests are able to detect cancer antigen levels and complete blood counts, Healthline noted. Imaging tests, ultrasounds and CT scans are also commonly used in the diagnostic process, the American Cancer Society maintained. A final diagnosis is determined by a biopsy of the affected tissue. 

Once cancer is diagnosed, physicians will determine the state of the disease, as well as whether or not it has spread beyond the primary site.

Ovarian cancer is common in women over 50.Ovarian cancer is common in women over 50.

The importance of single-use tools
As explained, vaginal speculums are widely used in the first stage of the diagnostic process. It is common practice, throughout health care facilities across the U.S., for providers to utilize reusable medical tools. These devices are as they sound – they are used on a patient before being sterilized and utilized again on another individual. This process is repeated indefinitely. 

Recent studies, however, have indicated that this approach puts patients at risk of cross-contamination with bacteria and certain viruses, including the human papillomavirus. Indeed, a study from researchers at Brigham Young University found that conventional sterilization products used in health care facilities are ineffective at killing certain strains of HPV, which have been identified as contributing factors in the development of cervical cancer in women – namely strains 16 and 18. 

It is clear, therefore, that a safer option for patients is for health care professionals to employ single-use tools. These devices are designed to be used once only, before being safely disposed of.

Consider OBP Medical
Here at OBP Medical we provide a range of single use medical tools, including vaginal speculums. Our speculums are well designed, pre-assembled and ready for immediate use. With a safe LED light source powered lithium batteries, out speculums are cleared for immediate disposal after use, even if the light is still shining. To learn more about the range of medical tools on offer from OBP Medical and to request a free sample of the ER-SPEC, single-use vaginal speculum, visit our website today. 

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