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Ovarian cancer is when abnormal cells in the ovary begin to multiply out of control and form a tumor. If left untreated, the tumor can spread to other parts of the body. This is called metastatic ovarian cancer. The ovaries are two female reproductive glands that produce ova, or eggs. They also produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Ovarian cancer often has warning signs, but the earliest symptoms are vague and easy to dismiss. Twenty percent of ovarian cancers are detected at an early stage.
In this article you will find information on ovarian cancer including:
It’s easy to overlook the early symptoms of ovarian cancer because they’re similar to other common illnesses or they tend to come and go. The early symptoms include:
Ovarian cancer can also cause other symptoms, such as:
These symptoms may occur for any number of reasons. They aren’t necessarily due to ovarian cancer. Many women have some of these problems at one time or another. These types of symptoms are often temporary and respond to simple treatments in most cases. Again, cancers are best treated when detected early. Please consult with your doctor if you experience new and unusual symptoms.
The symptoms will persist if they’re due to ovarian cancer. Symptoms usually become more severe as the tumor grows. By this time, the cancer has usually spread outside of the ovaries. This makes it much harder to treat effectively. Contact your doctor if you have one or more of these symptoms for a significant period.
The ovaries are made up of three types of cells. Each cell can develop into a different type of tumor:
Most ovarian cysts aren’t cancerous. These are called benign cysts. However, a very small number can be cancerous.
An ovarian cyst is a collection of fluid or air that develops in or around the ovary. Most ovarian cysts form as a normal part of ovulation, which is when the ovary releases an egg. They usually only cause mild symptoms, like bloating, and go away without treatment.
Cysts are more of a concern if you aren’t ovulating. Women stop ovulating after menopause. If an ovarian cyst forms after menopause, your doctor may want to do more tests to find out the cause of the cyst, especially if it’s large or doesn’t go away within a few months.
If the cyst doesn’t go away, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove it just in case. Your doctor can’t determine if it’s cancerous until they remove it surgically.
The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown. These factors can increase your risk:
Older age is another risk factor. Most cases of ovarian cancer develop after menopause.
It’s possible to have ovarian cancer without having any of these risk factors. Likewise, having any of these risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get ovarian cancer.
It’s much easier to treat ovarian cancer when your doctor diagnoses it in the early stages. However, it’s not easy to detect. Your ovaries are situated deep within the abdominal cavity, so you’re unlikely to feel a tumor. There’s no routine diagnostic screening available for ovarian cancer. That’s why it’s so important for you to report unusual or persistent symptoms to your doctor.
If your doctor is concerned that you have ovarian cancer, they’ll likely recommend a pelvic exam. Performing a pelvic exam can help your doctor discover irregularities, but small ovarian tumors are very difficult to feel. As the tumor grows, it presses against the bladder and rectum. Your doctor may be able to detect irregularities during a rectovaginal pelvic examination.
Your doctor may also do the following tests:
Your doctor determines the stage based on how far the cancer has spread. There are four stages, and each stage has sub-stages:
Stage 1 ovarian cancer has three sub-stages:
In stage 2, the tumor has spread to other pelvic structures. In stage 2A, the cancer has spread to the uterus or fallopian tubes. In stage 2B, it has spread to the bladder or rectum.
Stage 3 ovarian cancer has three sub-stages:
In stage 4, the tumor has metastasized, or spread, beyond the pelvis, abdomen, and lymph nodes to the liver or lungs. In stage 4A, the cancerous cells are in the fluid around the lungs. Stage 4B is the most advanced stage. In stage 4B, the cells have reached the inside of the spleen or liver or even other distant organs like the skin or brain.
The treatment depends on how far the cancer has spread. A team of doctors will determine a treatment plan depending on your situation. It will most likely include two or more of the following:
Surgery is the main treatment for ovarian cancer. The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor, but a hysterectomy, or complete removal of the uterus, is often necessary. Your doctor may also recommend removing both ovaries and fallopian tubes, nearby lymph nodes, and other pelvic tissue. Identifying all tumor locations is difficult. In one study, researchers investigated ways to enhance the surgical process so that it’s easier to remove all of the cancerous tissue.
Targeted therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation treatments, attack the cancer cells while doing little damage to normal cells in the body. Newer targeted therapies to treat advanced epithelial ovarian cancer include bevacizumab (Avastin) and olaparib (Lynparza). Doctors only use olaparib in people with mutations in the BRCA genes.
Cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, can damage your reproductive organs, making it difficult to become pregnant. If you want to become pregnant in the future, talk to your doctor before starting treatment. He or she can discuss your options for possibly preserving your fertility. Possible fertility preservation options include:
New treatments for ovarian cancer are studied each year. Researchers are also exploring new ways to treat platinum-resistant ovarian cancer. When platinum resistance occurs, standard first-line chemotherapy drugs like carboplatin and cisplatin are ineffective.
Ovarian cancer treatment primarily focuses on surgery to remove the ovaries and uterus, and chemotherapy. As a result, some women will experience menopause symptoms. A recent study examined how hormone therapy (HT) affects quality of life after ovarian cancer treatment. This study found that HT is safe for menopause treatments in women with ovarian cancer. People in the study maintained a high quality of life while receiving HT after being treated for ovarian cancer.
A 2015 article looked at intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy. This study found that those who received IP therapy had a median survival rate of 61.8 months. This was an improvement as compared to 51.4 months for those who received standard chemotherapy.
There are no proven ways to totally eliminate your risk of developing ovarian cancer. However, there are steps you can take to lower your risk. Factors that have been shown to lower your risk of developing ovarian cancer include:
Your outlook depends on a variety of factors, including the stage of the cancer at diagnosis, your overall health, and how well you respond to treatment. Every cancer is unique, but the stage of the cancer is the most important indicator of outlook.
The survival rate is the percentage of women who survive a certain number of years at a given stage of diagnosis. For example, the five-year survival rate is the percentage of patients who received a diagnosis at a particular stage and live at least five years after their doctor diagnosed them. The relative survival rate also takes into account the expected rate of death for people without cancer.
Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most common type of ovarian cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates the relative survival rate for this type of ovarian cancer as:
The survival rate is higher than 90 percent when the cancer is found early and treated right away. Doctors diagnose 15 percent of ovarian cancers at the earliest stages. Scientists are currently researching more improved and reliable ways to detect ovarian cancer early.
Written by: Ann Pietrangelo and Jacquelyn Cafassoon: Jul 03, 2017
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