risk of ovarian cancer increases with age. Almost half of the ovarian cancer cases are seen in women older than 63 years of age. Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of gynecological cancer-related deaths among women between the ages of 35 and 74 years. Most forms of ovarian cancer develop after a woman reaches menopause. Below are few common risk factors for ovarian cancer:
- Previously having breast cancer raises the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Taking estrogen after menopause increases the risk for ovarian cancer. The risk is higher for women who take estrogen without progesterone for at least five years.
- A woman may be at risk if she has a first-degree relative—that is, a daughter, sister, or mother—who has had ovarian cancer. Her risk is particularly high if two or more first-degree relatives have had this cancer.
- A family history of breast or colon cancer also has been associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- Women who have a strong family history of breast cancer sometimes opt to get checked for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which are linked to a high risk of breast cancer. Being a carrier of either one of these genes also is associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- Taking the fertility drug for more than one year increases the risk of getting ovarian cancer. The risk seems the highest in women who did not get pregnant while on the drug.
- Women of reproductive age with enlarged ovaries, who experience abnormal menstruation, excess facial hair, severe acne, or male-patterned baldness caused by increased levels of male hormones, are at higher risk for developing ovarian cancer.
Pregnancy after age 35 or never being pregnant:
- Women, in either case, are at higher risk for developing ovarian cancer.
- Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of many forms of cancer. Researchers believe that women with a body mass index of at least 30 may be at a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
- Researchers have linked smoking to an increased risk of a type of ovarian cancer called mucinous ovarian cancer.
- Women with this syndrome are at an increased risk of developing cancer of the colon, uterus, and ovaries. The lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer for women with HNPCC is approximately 10 percent.
- This rare genetic syndrome causes stomach and intestine polyps (a small growth protruding from the inner lining of the gut) in teenagers. It also increases a person’s risk of cancer, especially of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon. Women with Peutz–Jeghers syndrome are also at an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- This syndrome causes polyps in the small intestine and colon. It increases the risk of ovarian cancer in women, colon cancer, and bladder cancer.
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a relatively uncommon type of cancer that arises from different types of cells within the ovary, an almond-shaped egg-producing female reproductive organ. Similar cancer can also start on the fallopian tube or the peritoneum and the inner lining of the abdomen, and the fallopian tube may actually be the initial source for ovarian cancer in most cases. Symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:
- Stomach discomforts, such as indigestion, nausea, swelling, or cramps
- Diarrhea, constipation, or frequent urination
- Decreased appetite
- Feeling full after even a light meal
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Pain during intercourse
Treatment options: Ovarian cancer treatment depends upon the stage of cancer, size of the tumor, and age and health of the woman. Most often, ovarian cancer is treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.
- Surgery: Surgery is the most common treatment for ovarian cancer. Surgery options can include:
- Salpingo-oophorectomy: Removal of one or both ovaries and fallopian tubes
- Debulking: Removal of as much of the tumor as possible
- Hysterectomy: Removal of the uterus and sometimes the cervix
- Omentectomy: Removal of the fatty tissue that covers the organs in the lower abdomen
- External beam radiation treatments may be used for recurring ovarian cancer. During this treatment, a high-energy beam of radiation is directed to the tumor for a few minutes. This procedure is repeated five days a week for several weeks.
- Special drugs designed to kill cancer cells can be given as a pill, as intravenous (IV), or injected into the abdominal cavity. Chemotherapy can be given in combination with surgery.