We tend to believe that it's unlikely for us to develop ovarian cancer in our youth. However, it happens and no matter our age, we really have to get constant check-ups.
In school, we’re taught at our sex ed and health classes that there comes a time when we have to get checked for breast and cervical cancer. We’re told that we should perform regular self-exams to check for lumps in our breasts and get a Pap smear every three months after we turn twenty-one. The thing is that no matter how much they emphasize how important it is, you've probably never gotten one, or you've only gotten a couple of them (now that I think about it, I've only gotten one). The problem is that many people associate ovarian or cervical cancer with older or middle-aged women since the rates tell us that it’s much more common in women from 55 to 64. However, just because it’s not that common, doesn’t mean we’re not at risk. And that's what we're going to talk about today.
Cancer comes in all forms, affects people of all ages, and can appear in any part of our body. Now, in case you need a little review, cancer is defined as an abnormal growth of cells when they’re in their division process. This growth can form a neoplasm (tumor) that continues to grow at an abnormal pace and can spread all over your body. The problem with cancer is that it doesn’t have very noticeable symptoms at first, which is the time treatment has proved to be the most efficient, so, when symptoms actually manifest, the disease is actually at an advanced stage.
So, let’s focus on ovarian cancer now. This is the seventh most common type of cancer in women, and as we mentioned before, it’s more common in older women who have had more ovulations in their lifetime. Since there are no early signs, in most cases it’s diagnosed at an advanced stage because getting constant checks isn’t something we really include in our health habits. Moreover, this is one of those diseases that can easily be confused with other conditions that increase the risk of metastasis or even death.
So, what about this strange type of cancer that mainly affects young women? Among the range of cancer types, there’s a particular one known as small-cell cancer. As the name indicates, this one is generated in smaller cells, but at the same time, when analyzed through a microscope, they look way smaller than regular cancer cells. The problem is that, contrary to its name, these are malignant types of carcinoma since, due to their nature, these tend to grow quickly and reproduce just as fast.
There are basically three types of small-cell cancer: pulmonary, neuroendocrine, and the one we’re referring to, known as extrapulmonary or hypercalcemia. This one is the rarest of the three and appears mainly in the cervix, prostate in men, liver, pancreas, the gastrointestinal tract, and bladder. So, from the range of ovarian cancer, this particular type is only 0.1% of all the cases, having only about 300 cases reported in medical literature. However, the fact that it’s rare doesn’t really exempt us from getting constant check-ups for it, since it’s believed that the low number of reported cases has to do more with a recent discovery of the disease than a real number of the women who have it.
According to the numbers, this particular type of small-cell cancer most commonly appears in women around 24 years old, which is a very young age compared to regular ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, since it hasn’t been studied very much and is one of the most aggressive and malignant carcinomas, the prognosis is quite bad. There are cases where regular treatment like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or even surgery has been able to destroy the tumor. However, since it grows very quickly, it tends to reappear later. Nowadays, some specialists have been opting for other alternative treatments like immunotherapy that don't really solve the problem but rather help the body slow down the abnormal cell growth. However, this is still at the experimental stage.
The idea behind this article is not to cause fear but to be aware that this happens and that anyone can get it. More importantly, we need to change our health culture. Just because it’s not that common, we shouldn’t neglect regular check-ups. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that the prognosis isn’t that encouraging: basically, all diseases have better chances of being controlled or even cured when diagnosed at the right time.
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Images by Angie Lopez