Ovarian cancer is a disease in which the abnormal cells in the ovary begin to grow and divide in an uncontrolled manner forming a mass of undifferentiated tumor cells. These cells tend to invade the local tissues and spread to the other organs deteriorating their function.
The ovaries are pair of female reproductive organs. The main role of the ovaries is to produce eggs and act as the major source of female hormones—estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths among older women with gynecologic tumors, but it can also affect younger women. The ovaries are situated deep within the abdominal cavity; hence, an ovarian tumor cannot be typically felt. In most cases, ovarian cancer is not diagnosed till it has progressed to an advanced stage. This is because ovarian cancer symptoms either are not apparent in the early stages of the disease or mimic common stomach and digestive issues. Women are more likely to experience symptoms once the disease has spread beyond the ovaries, typically to the lymph nodes outside the abdomen, skin, liver, spleen, fluid around the lungs, intestines or brain.
What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Common signs and symptoms may include
- Abdominal bloating, indigestion or nausea
- Changes in appetite such as a loss of appetite or feeling full sooner
- Pressure in the pelvis or lower back
- More frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation
- Changes in bowel movements
- Increased abdominal girth
- Tiredness or low energy
- Changes in menstruation
What are the types of ovarian cancer?
- Epithelial tumors: These begin in the thin layer of the tissue that covers the outside of the ovaries. About 90 percent of ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors.
- Stromal tumors: These begin in the ovarian tissue that contains hormone-producing cells. These tumors are usually diagnosed at an earlier stage than other ovarian tumors. About 7 percent of ovarian tumors are stromal.
- Germ cell tumors: These begin in the egg-producing cells. These rare ovarian cancers tend to occur in younger women.
What causes ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer develops when the cells in the ovaries divide and multiply in an uncontrolled way. Several factors may increase the risk of the disease. The likelihood of developing the disease may be higher if a woman has one or more ovarian risk factors. One key risk factor is age. Most women who develop ovarian cancer are diagnosed after menopause when they are 55 years of age or older.
Some common risk factors for ovarian cancer include
- Inherited gene mutations: A small percentage of ovarian cancers are caused by gene mutations inherited from the parents. The genes known to increase the risk of ovarian cancer are called breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2). These genes also increase the risk of breast cancer. Other gene mutations, including those associated with Lynch syndrome, are known to increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Family history: People with two or more close relatives with ovarian cancer have an increased risk of the disease.
- Hormone replacement therapy: Long-term use and large doses of this therapy are risk factors for ovarian cancer.
- Age of menstruation: Beginning menstruation at an early age or starting menopause at a later age, or both, may increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Reproductive history: Having children later in life (after the age of 35 years) or never having children is associated with a high risk of ovarian cancer.
- Addictions: Smoking and (less frequently) alcohol are the risk factors for cancer of the ovaries.
- Comorbid conditions: Polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD) or diabetes mellitus may also be the risk factors for cancer of the ovaries.
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed
A pelvic exam is usually one of the first steps in evaluating a person with a known or suspected diagnosis of ovarian cancer. During a pelvic exam, the doctor will manually examine the abdomen and pelvic area for nodules or bumps. Gynecologic oncologists use various tools designed for diagnosing ovarian cancer and determining the type and stage of the disease
What is the treatment of ovarian cancer?
Treatment will depend on many factors, including
- The type, stage and grade of the cancer
- The individual’s age and overall health
- Their personal preferences
- Accessibility and affordability of treatment
Treatment options include