Ovarian Cancer

Any cancerous growth that starts in the ovary is referred to as ovarian cancer.  Cancer of the ovaries is one of the most frequently met types of cancers in women with an aggravating number of patients being diagnosed every year worldwide. Ovarian cancer occurs when certain abnormal cells in the ovary multiply, forming a tumor. The ovaries, small, almond shaped organs situated on both sides of the uterus, produce the female hormones, progesterone and estrogen, being the reproductive glands that are also in charge of producing ova, commonly known as eggs.


Ovarian Cancer Overview & Facts

A concise definition for cancer could be the out of control growth of certain cells in the body. Cells in almost any area of the body are predisposed to becoming cancerous, when they begin to grow abnormally, and can easily spread around other body parts. Ovarian cancer, just as the name itself indicates, begins in the ovaries.  According to current research, it has been concluded that this type of cancer starts in the fallopian tubes and later moves to the actual ovaries. This type of cancers become more severe as it progresses, and it is classified chronologically in four stages. Each individual stage can be furtherly classified in several other categories. This is a short overview of ovarian cancer classification and categorization:


  • Stage 1 – in the first stage the cancer can be – Localized and limited to one ovary (1A)
  • Found in both of the ovaries (1B)
  • Produce cancer cells outside the ovary as well (1C)
  • Stage 2 – during this phase, the tumor has already begun to spread towards other pelvic structures, starting from the fallopian tubes and uterus and up to the rectum or bladder.
  • Stage 3 – this stage can be subcategorize in – 3A – when the cancer has evolved to the lining of the abdomen, beyond the pelvis and up to the abdomen’s lymph nodes.
  • 3B – the cancerous cells are found outside of the liver or spleen.
  • 3C – cancer deposit can seen outside of the liver or spleen and on the abdomen.
  • Stage 4 – the last and most sever ovarian cancer stage, when the tumor has already metastasized. This means the cells have spread beyond the abdomen, lympf nodes and pelvis to the lungs or liver. In the second part of this stage, the cells could reach even the inside of organs such as the brain, or skin.


Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Although warning signs do exist, when it comes to ovarian cancer, the earliest of symptoms can be quite vague and hard to notice, making this type of condition difficult to detect in an early stage. Only 20 percent of all ovarian cancer cases have been spotted early. These are the most common symptoms:

  • Bloating – high frequency
  • A rapid sensation of fullness when eating
  • Abdominal and pelvic pain without any clear factors
  • Trouble eating
  • An urgent and frequent need to urinate
  • Unexplained weight loss/Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Menstrual changes
  • Constipation
  • Experiencing pain during intercourse
  • Lower back pain
  • Vaginal bleeding

These symptoms will become more pronounced as the disease continues to progress. When women experience these symptoms on the regular, remaining persistent even after regular interventions, seeing a specialist is recommended. Because these signs can be easily described as silent or vague, their persistence is the one that should determine women to carry on cancer investigations.


Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis

More than 70 percent of ovarian cancer cases are detected in an advanced stage, due to the subtle or ignored signs present in the early phases. Despite what many women might believe, even routine pelvic exams are often incapable of spotting this condition when it remains in a treatable phase, before it has actually begun to spread beyond the ovaries. For increased chances of survival, the sooner the disease is spotted and treatment starts ,the better. Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest types of diseases in women, and this is why being keen to the possible presence of symptoms is recommended. For an exact diagnosis of the disease, several screening tests have been made available:

  • Transvaginal sonography – an imagine technique that involves the usage of an ultrasound instrument, which is placed in the vagina for the detection of potential cancerous ovarian cells. This method is limited when it comes to early stages, but provides safer and more accurate results than CA-125 blood tests.
  • Pelvic exam – slough not necessarily effective in the detection of an ovarian cancer, a pelvic exam does allow specialists to notice baseline conditions. When abnormal tenderness and swelling is present, physician can conduct further medical investigations to help conclude the potential risk factor of ovarian cancer.
  • CA-125 test – Being a blood borne protein formed by certain ovarian cancer cells and several other conditions, CA-125 can be measured as a method of cancer diagnosis. Although it has limited capacities in the early phases of cancer, undergoing a blood test of this kind is recommended for women.

These are the early, preliminary screening techniques, and if they indicate the possible presence of ovarian cancer, they should be followed by biopsy, CT scan or x-ray for the confirmation of results.


What Causes Ovarian Cancer – Risk Factors

Something that increase a person’s chances of contacting a particular disease is considered a risk factor. When it comes to ovarian cancer, there are a few known factors that stand out in particular.

  • Inherited tendencies – more than 10 percent of ovarian cancer cases have been liked to inhered tendencies. Women who have had cancer cases in their families, either ovarian or breast cancer, are at higher risk of being diagnosed with this condition themselves. Mutation in the BRCA2 and BRCA1 genes are the ones that make a female predisposed to the development of such a condition. Also, patients with a prior colorectal or breast cancer history are more prone to being confronted with an ovarian condition as well.
  • Menopause – according to research, the vast majority of ovarian cancer cases have been developed in women who have already entered menopause. After the age of 65, the appearance of this condition increases in risk.
  • Obesity – although this is widely unknown by women, obesity can in fact be correlated with ovarian cancer death. American Cancer Society has conducted a study which has brought conclusive proof that the highest death rate triggered by ovarian cancer has been among obese women.
  • Infertility and fertility drugs – when fertility is a problem, many women choose to resort to specially created drugs. It has been shown that those who use fertility drugs for a period of over a year, without being able to get pregnant are at higher risk of facing ovarian cancer. Because pregnancy lowers the chances of suffering from this diseases, infertility can also be a high risk factor.
  • Hormone therapy – undergoing hormone therapy can be linked to ovarian cancer development, the risk revolving around HRT no longer existing after the treatment is stopped. Androgen therapy also rises concerns in this department.
  • Endometriosis – in comparison with healthy women, those suffer from endometriosis have even up to 30 percent more risks of developing this form of cancer.

Although women with more risk factors do not necessarily end up suffering from cancer, being aware of them can make a difference in terms of prevention, diagnosis and early treatment.


Ovarian Cancer Treatment & Care

Along the years, after constant research and medical development, ovarian cancer treatment option have started to become more effective. However, the best of results can be provided when the problem is detected in an early stage. There are a few methods specialists adopt when it comes to ovarian cancer cases, these being the following:

Salpingo-oophorectom – the removal of fallopian tubes and ovaries through surgery

Hysterectomy – the removal of the uterus as well as the affected surrounding tissue

Lymph node dissection – the removal of lymph nodes near the aorta and in the pelvis

Cytoreductive or debulking surgery – the reduction of cancerous tissue, such as from the gallbladder, when the cancer cells have spread beyond the pelvis. This is a technique that will make the follow-up required chemotherapy more effective.


When the stage of the cancer is too advanced for the methods mentioned above to still work, chemotherapy is the next necessary treatment option.  This involves the usage of certain medications designed to destroy the cancer cells, as well as preventing them to develop further and to grow. Cytotoxic medication becomes an option when the cancer cells are unable to be removed through surgery. This treatment implies 3 to 6 sessions or cycles, with pauses of 3 or for 4 weeks between them, in order for the body to recover. Target chemotherapy is the recent option used by specialists, which involves the administration of newer medications that also limit damage to normal cells and reduce side effects. This type of chemotherapy can inconclude olaparib and bevacizumab.  Although chemotherapy might be the last viable solution for many patients, it can lead to an extensive range of unpleasant side effects, a few of them being anemia, nausea and vomiting, or hair loss.


Living with Ovarian Cancer

The most difficult thing for those who have been recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer is to learn how to cope and live with this condition. Because the risks and implications of the disease are various, patients require to adopt the right coping mechanisms and follow a few essential steps in order to make life with ovarian cancer as bearable and normal as possible. Maintaining oneself strong and bearing the side effects of treatment and the life changing repercussions of the disease can be extremely difficult, so being proactive is something that any woman in this situation should focus on. Accessing accurate information on the disease and documentation, learning about the physical and emotional recovery needed, being surrounded by supportive family members and friends are all things that can make a positive difference in a patient’s life. Those who have undergone extreme negative psychological outcomes have chosen to resort to organizations and support groups to make the acceptance of the disease an easier process. Support groups give women the chance to communicate with other people in the same situation as themselves, support each other and receive the moral resources necessary to go through this unpleasant situation more easily, and adopt a slightly more positive state of mind. Learning from personal stories shared by women who are suffering from cancer or has managed to overcome it can be extremely helpful for patients who are still unable to cope with their condition.


Can Ovarian Cancer Be Prevented?

Despite the work, dedication and years of studies put into the research of ovarian cancer, specialists have still been unable to discover actual secure and effective ways of preventing this unpleasant health problem. However, there has been evidence that show how women can in fact lower the risks of developing this disease:

  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding – specialists say that women who have had one or more children, especially prior to the age of 25, have lower risk of developing this disease.
  • Contraception pills – studies have shown that women who have been using oral contraception over a period of five years face a lower risk of developing this type of cancer. The longer the period of taking birth control pills, the lower the cancer risk decreases. However, the potential side effects of contraception pills also need to be consider, researchers claiming that they can heighten the chance of breast cancer in certain women.
  • Surgical prevention- Women who have ovarian cancer cases running in the family, and are at higher risk of suffering from this disease themselves have the possibility to resort to surgery. Procedures such as removing the ovaries – oophorectomy, tying the fallopian tubes – tubal ligation, or removing the uterus – hysterectomy, can have a powerful role in reducing a person’ chances of developing this condition. However, in order for surgical prevention to be something worth taking into consideration, the said woman needs to be out of her reproductive years. Also there are certain risks involved when it comes to surgery, so discussing in analyzing the implications in advance is recommended.


Last updated on March 2nd, 2018

Chris Riley

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