Overview of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is a cancer that begins in the ovaries. The ovaries are found in the female reproductive system – with each side of the uterus having one. They are about the size of the almond and are responsible for producing eggs, estrogen, and progesterone. Ovarian cancer is typically not detected until later, once it has spread into the pelvis and abdomen. Once it has progressed, it becomes very difficult to treat. Surgery and chemotherapy are the most common treatments.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Symptoms of ovarian cancer are typically not seen until it has reached more advanced stages. Even in more advanced stages of ovarian cancer, the symptoms may be dismissed for other conditions. Some symptoms that you may want to watch for are weight loss, bloating or swelling in the abdomen, discomfort in the pelvis area, frequent need to urinate, or quickly feeling full when eating. It is essential to speak with your physician if you have any symptoms that worry you, specifically if you have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer.
Causes of Ovarian Cancer
There is no real clear cause of ovarian cancer, but there are many factors that can indicate if you are at a higher risk for ovarian cancer. Cancer begins when there is a mutation in the Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA). The cells will begin to rapidly grow and not die, which leads to a mass or tumor forming.
Types of Ovarian Cancer
There are a few types of ovarian cancer, and where the cancer begins will depend on how the cancer is classified.
Epithelial tumors begin in the thin layer of tissue that cover the ovaries. Around 90% of ovarian cancers are found here.
Stromal tumors begin in the ovarian tissue that contains the cells that produce hormones. These are less common and are typically diagnosed at an earlier stage.
Germ cell tumors begin in the egg-producing cells. These are very rare, but are typically found in young women.
Risk Factors of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is most common in women between the ages of 50 and 60 years old, but will also depend on when menstruation and menopause started and ended.
Another main factor is your health history, such as if you have certain gene mutations from your family or if your family has a history of ovarian cancer.
How to Prevent Ovarian Cancer
There is no real way to prevent ovarian cancer, but there are some suggested ways to help prevent ovarian cancer. Women who use contraceptives are seen to be at a reduced risk of ovarian cancer, so ask your physician if birth control pills are right for you. There are risks associated with these, so in some cases, this may not be a fit for you.
You will also want to speak with your physician about risk factors that may occur, such as a family history of breast and ovarian cancer. In some cases, your physician will send you out for genetic testing,
Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer
There are many tests and procedures that may be done to diagnose ovarian cancer. The first exam that is typically done is a pelvic exam. Next, your physician may order a blood test to determine your overall health. There are many different problems your physician may test for.
An imaging test, such as an ultrasound or computerized tomography (CT) scan of your abdomen or pelvis may be done to determine the shape, structure, and size of the ovaries.
If diagnosis is still not able to be done, then surgery may be recommended to remove the ovary and test for cancer.
Once it is confirmed that you have ovarian cancer, your physician will use the information that has been collected through testing to give the cancer a stage. Staging can be done by diagnosing a Roman numeral – from I to IV, with the IV being the most advanced.
Treatment of Ovarian Cancer
Treating ovarian cancer may include one or a few treatments.
There are many different types of surgery that may be offered. The first surgery that your physician may recommend is surgery to remove one ovary. This is typically done in early stages of cancer that have not spread to the other ovary. If the cancer has spread to both ovaries, then surgery to remove them both may be recommended. Both of these surgeries do not take away the chance of you having children.
If your cancer has spread to other parts or it is considered more extensive, then your physician may wish to remove both of the ovaries and the uterus. If this type of surgery is done, then you will no longer be able to have children.
Chemotherapy is a drug that is used to kill cancer cells in the body. This can be done by taking a pill or by an IV. This type of treatment is typically done after surgery to kill any additional cancer cells that may remain in the body. In some other cases, the drug may be used before surgery.
Targeted therapy is a treatment that uses medications to target the cancer cells. These are typically used to treat ovarian cancer that returns after the treatments.
Palliative care is a special type of care that focuses on providing relief from the pain and other symptoms that you may be experiencing. This type of care is so beneficial to you and your family, and most people will feel better and live longer when this type of care is used.
Support with Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer may be overwhelming and you may not be sure what to do. The first thing to do is find someone you trust to speak with about what you are going through. If you have someone you trust, it may be beneficial to bring this person to your appointments with you as well. This person can help listen and remember what your physician says and can help you remember any questions that you have. Let your support person or group help with whatever you need.