Ovarian Cancer Clinic offers convenient, multidisciplinary, comprehensive care.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
Cancer is a disease in which the cells in the body begin to divide and multiply controllably. Cells in just about any part of the body can become cancerous. Previously, ovarian cancers were believed to begin in just the ovaries, but recent evidence suggests that many cancers actually begin in the cells in the far ends of the fallopian tubes.
Around 21,000 U.S. people receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis each year, and about 14,000 die from the disease annually.
Types of Ovarian Cancer
There are three main types of ovarian cancer – each is distinguishable by the type of cell where cancer begins. These types include:
- Epithelial tumors. About 90% of ovarian cancers fall into this category. This type of cancer begins in the thin layer of tissue that covers the outside of the ovaries.
- Stromal tumors. About 7% of ovarian cancers fall into this category. This type of cancer begins in the ovarian tissue that contains cells that produce hormones.
- Germ cell tumors. This is the rarest form of ovarian cancer, and it tends to occur in younger women. This form of ovarian cancer begins in the egg-producing cells.
Ovarian Cancer Symptoms
There are relatively few early signs of ovarian cancer because early ovarian cancer is not usually symptomatic. Advanced stage cancer can cause a few symptoms, although these symptoms can be easily mistaken for other common conditions. These signs and symptoms include:
- Swelling or bloating in the abdomen
- Feeling full quicker than usual while eating
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pelvic discomfort
- Needing to urinate frequently
- Bowel issues, such as constipation
One other sign of ovarian cancer, although it is rare, could be the presence of ovarian cysts. Ovarian cysts are usually benign and occur as a normal part of ovulation, but they can be concerning in women who are not ovulating. The doctor may want to run further tests on an ovarian cyst if it is large or if it does not go away after a few months. A small number of cysts can become cancer.
Ovarian Cancer Causes
Doctors are unsure of what exactly causes ovarian cancer, but they have identified several risk factors associated with a higher likelihood of developing the disease. These risk factors include:
- Age. Ovarian cancer is most common in older women ages 50 to 60 years old, although the disease can occur at any age.
- Imaging tests. Imaging tests, such as an ovarian cancer ultrasound or CT scan, can help determine the size, shape, and structure of the ovaries.
- Pelvic exam. A pelvic exam involves the doctor inserting gloved fingers into the vagina while simultaneously pressing on the abdomen to feel the pelvic organs to check for abnormalities.
- Surgery. In some cases, the doctor may need to remove an ovary to test it for cancer in order to make a definitive diagnosis.
Once a diagnosis is made, the doctor can indicate your stage of ovarian cancer. The stages are indicated using Roman numerals ranging from I to IV – with I indicating that the cancer is confined to the ovaries and stage IV indicating that the cancer has spread to distant areas of the body.
Ovarian Cancer Treatment Options
Treatment for ovarian cancer typically involves some combination of medications and surgery.
Ovarian Cancer Surgery
Surgical options for ovarian cancer will depend on the stage of your cancer. The options include:
- Removing one ovary
- Removing both ovaries
- Removing both ovaries and the uterus
- Surgery with chemotherapy for advanced cancers
In cases where just one or both of the ovaries are removed, women may still be able to have children.
Ovarian Cancer Medications/Radiation/Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy refers to using medications to prevent cancer cells from dividing and spreading. Chemotherapy can be used at any stage of ovarian cancer. There are many different cancer drugs, including:
- Gemcitabine (Gemzar)
- 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)
- Irinotecan (Camptosar)
- Oxaliplatin (Eloxatin)
- Albumin-bound paclitaxel (Abraxane)
- Capecitabine (Xeloda)
- Paclitaxel (Taxol)
- Docetaxel (Taxotere)
- Irinotecan liposome (Onivyde)
Medications can be used to either alleviate painful or uncomfortable symptoms or as targeted therapies to try and attack specific changes that happen in the cancer cell to help them grow.
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