What you need to know about Ovarian Cancer

Facts & Stats

Ovarian cancer is an umbrella term that describes various types of cancer which originate from the ovarian cells. The ovarian cancer occurs when tumors develop in the epithelium of the ovary. Common forms of ovarian cancer include epithelial ovarian, primary peritoneal and fallopian tube cancers. Another type of cancer called ovarian low malignant potential tumor may show certain microscopic elements of a cancer. However, it does not spread like the other types of cancers. Ovarian cancers frequently go unnoticed until it spreads to the abdomen and pelvis. This makes the later stage ovarian cancers rather difficult to treat by the medical experts.

Symptoms

The early stage of ovarian cancers usually does not produce any kind of symptoms. The advanced stage ovarian cancer can give rise to some nonspecific symptoms which may be mistaken for other benign conditions. Typically it is rather difficult for a woman to understand she has ovarian cancer. The main symptoms associated with ovarian cancer include the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pains
  • Shortness of breath
  • A frequent urgency to urinate
  • Abdominal bloating and swelling
  • Discomfort around the pelvis area
  • Changes in day to day bladder habits
  • Feeling full rather quickly while eating
  • Changes in the bowel habits, like constipation

Stages

The staging of ovarian cancer is an effective way for the doctors to come up with a mode of treatment. It also helps them to have a clearer understanding of the condition.

  • Stage I: At this stage, the cancer is limited to only one or both the ovaries.
  • Stage II: The cancer is limited to the pelvic region.
  • Stage III: The cancer has spread beyond the pelvis, but still limited to abdomen or the lymph nodes. It has not yet affected the inner parts of the liver.
  • Stage IV: At the final stage the cancer has spread to liver and/or outside the abdomen.

Causes

The exact factors that lead to the development of ovarian cancer are not known. It is believed that the DNA of the cells within the ovary undergoes certain mutations at some point of time which enables them to replicate or multiply abnormally. This eventually leads to the formation of a tumor that slowly grows due to the active supply of fresh tumor cells. As the tumor grows it kills off the healthy cells which cause serious health problems. Eventually the tumor starts to metastasize and spread to other regions of the body. Certain risk factors like inherited gene mutations, estrogen hormone replacement therapy, old age and a history of ovarian cancer in the family have been linked to ovarian cancer.

Diagnosis

The first and foremost diagnostic procedure that the doctor is going to carry out is a pelvic exam. This will be followed by imaging tests such as CT scans, PET scans, X-rays, MRI scans and ultrasound which can help in determining the structure, size and shape of the ovaries. The doctor can also recommend certain types of blood tests to see if there are any signs of tumor. In order to carry out staging for ovarian cancer, the doctor may be required to perform hysterectomy, omentum biopsies, remove the ovaries, biopsies or dissection of the aortic and pelvic lymph nodes and peritoneal biopsies.

Treatment

The main form of treatment for ovarian cancer is of course surgery. The surgeon may choose to remove a single ovary or both the ovaries as per the need of the case. The doctor may also decide to remove both the ovaries and the uterus if the cancer is found to be more extensive. In some advanced cases, the doctor may choose to perform chemotherapy along with surgery to have the best results. Additionally, targeted therapy can be administered to make sure that specific vulnerable parts of the cancerous region is dealt with in a better way so that the patient has a better overall prognosis.

Prevention

As there is no known cause responsible for ovarian cancer, there is nothing you can do to prevent it. You should discuss the use of birth control pills with your doctor and also seek help if you have a history of cancer in your family.