Ovarian cancer is a growth of cells in the ovaries, where the cells multiply rapidly and can invade and harm the healthy body tissue. The female reproductive system comprises two ovaries, one on either side of the uterus. The ovaries are about a size of an almond each, which produce eggs, secretes hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer in females.
Generally, most women with ovarian cancer do not show any noticeable symptoms initially. However, when ovarian cancer symptoms develop, they are related to other more common health conditions.
Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:
Bloating or swelling of the abdomen
Feeling full when eating
Sudden weight loss
Discomfort in the pelvic region
Frequent urge to urinate
The exact cause of ovarian cancer is still not known; however, doctors say that there are certain factors that can elevate the risk of the disease. Ovarian cancer begins when the cells in or surrounding the ovaries develop mutations in their DNA. Where the alterations tell the cells to grow and multiply rapidly, creating a mass of cancer cells. The cancer cells continue to live and healthy cells would eventually die. Further, they invade nearby tissues and break off from an initial tumour and spread to other parts of the body.
Types Of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer types include:
Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most common type that includes several subtypes such as serous carcinoma and mucinous carcinoma.
Stromal tumours are rare types, that is typically diagnosed at an initial stage than other ovarian cancers.
Germ cell tumours are very rare ovarian cancers and tend to develop at a younger age.
Some of the contributing factors that can increase a person’s risk of ovarian cancer include:
Age: The risk of ovarian increases as you age.
Inherited gene mutations: A very small percentage of ovarian cancers are caused by genes mutations a person inherit from parents. BRCA1 and BRCA 2 are the genes that can increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
Gene changes related to Lynch syndrome and the genes BRIP1, RAD51C and RAD51D can also elevate the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Family History: If any blood relatives have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, then it may increase a person risk of the disease.
Overweight: Being overweight or obese may increase the risk.
Hormone Replacement Therapy: Women on hormone replacement therapy to manage menopause symptoms are at risk of ovarian cancer.
Endometriosis: This is a painful disorder where tissue like the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterus.
Menstruation Age: Starting menstruation at an early age or menopause at a later age or both factors may increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
Never Been Pregnant: Women who had never been pregnant are at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Test and procedure to diagnose ovarian cancer include:
Pelvic Exam: In this examination, the doctor inserts gloved fingers into the vagina and presses the other hand on the abdomen to feel pelvic organs. Further, the doctors also visually check external genital, vaginal and cervix regions.
Imaging tests: Ultrasound or CT scans of the abdomen and pelvis may also help to assess the size, shape, and structure of the ovaries.
Blood tests: Certain blood works are suggested to determine the overall health of the patient. Blood tests for tumour markers such as CA 125 antigen can help the doctor in the diagnosis of cancer.
Genetic Testing: The doctor may also suggest testing a blood sample for gene changes that can increase the risk of ovarian cancer. This test may help the doctor to make the right decision about a further treatment plan. Once ovarian cancer is confirmed, the doctor may use information from the procedures to identify the cancer stage. The stages of ovarian cancer range from 1 to 4, the lowest stage denotes that the cancer is limited to the ovaries, whereas in stage 4, cancer has already spread to vital organs of the system.
The treatment of ovarian cancer mainly comprises a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.
Generally, surgery is done to remove one ovary or both ovaries, if the cancer is present in both ovaries. If there are no prominent signs of additional cancer, then the surgeon may remove both ovaries and fallopian tubes, where the uterus is intact, and women may still be able to conceive using frozen embryos or eggs from a donor.
If the cancer is more severe and spread across the surrounding regions, then the surgeon will remove the ovaries, fallopian tubes and the uterus, nearby lymph nodes and fatty abdominal tissue.
In the advanced stage, the doctor may recommend surgery to remove as much cancer as possible. Followed by chemotherapy before or after surgery.
It is a drug treatment mode where chemicals are used to kill rapidly growing cancer cells in the body. Chemotherapy drugs can be injected via a vein or given by mouth. It is mostly used post-surgery to kill any cancer cells that may remain intact or can also be used before surgery.
Targeted therapy, Hormone therapy and immunotherapy are other modes of treatment that are employed to kill cancer cells.