What is ovarian cancer?
Each cell in the body survives, grows, and dies under regulated conditions. The term cancer means an uncontrolled growth of cells. When cancer begins in the ovaries, it is called ovarian cancer. The ovaries are a pair of organs that are a part of the female reproductive system. Each ovary is an oval organ, roughly 2-inch long. Ovaries are located in the pelvis on either side of the uterus. Their main functions include producing the egg or ovum and female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone).
Recent studies have suggested that ovarian cancer may begin in part of the fallopian tubes near the ovaries (distal end). Although not common, ovarian cancer causes a significant number of deaths among women. Depending upon the type of cells forming cancer, ovarian cancer may be of various types. The most common type of ovarian cancer is high-grade serous carcinoma that accounts for around 70 percent of the ovarian cancer cases.
What are the main causes of ovarian cancer?
The definitive cause of ovarian cancer is unknown. Some women may get ovarian cancer even in the absence of any apparent causes or risk factors. Certain conditions may increase your risk of ovarian cancer. These include:
- Being middle-aged or older
- Having a family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, or colorectal cancer (this means any of the first-degree relatives such as mother, sister, grandmother, or daughter have had any of these cancers)
- Inheriting certain abnormal genes such as BRCA and BRCA2 or the gene associated with Lynch syndrome or Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
- A positive personal history of cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum
- Being obese or overweight
- Certain ethnic backgrounds (Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish)
- Having endometriosis (a condition in which the tissue lining the uterus grows elsewhere in the body)
- Using fertility treatment
- Women who have never been pregnant or have never succeeded to continue pregnancy till term
- Smoking (it typically increases the risk of mucinous ovarian cancer)
- Applying talcum powder to the genital area or using talc on sanitary napkins, condoms, or diaphragms
- Taking estrogen hormone without progesterone for 10 years or more
Having the above risk factors does not necessarily mean that you will get ovarian cancer. Some women may not get ovarian cancer despite the risk factors, whereas some may get the condition despite the absence of any risk factors. If you have any of the risk factors, particularly a family history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer, you must consult your doctor for screening tests.
What are the warning signs of ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is rarely diagnosed in its early stages because of the lack of any typical signs and symptoms. When present, the symptoms may include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge (vaginal bleeding in postmenopausal women should not be ignored)
- Belly pain or discomfort
- Reduced appetite
- Swollen or distended abdomen
- Heaviness or pain in the pelvic area
- A change in bowel habits, typically constipation
- A frequent urge to urinate
- Unexplained weight loss
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Can a Blood Test Detect Ovarian Cancer?A doctor may advise a blood test to patients having ovarian cancer. A cancer antigen-125 (CA-125) blood test is usually recommended to measure the levels of a protein called CA-125, which could be elevated in women who have ovarian cancer. This test is also used during the treatment of ovarian cancer because the level of this protein goes down as the tumor shrinks. This protein is elevated in more than 80 percent of women with advanced ovarian cancers and 50 percent of those with early-stage cancers.
Can You Be Fully Cured of Ovarian Cancer?Around two in ten women with advanced-stage ovarian cancer are effectively cured and survive at least 12 years after the treatment as per the research. Your response to cancer therapy and chances for a cure depend on the type and the staging of ovarian cancer at the time of diagnosis.
Can You See Ovarian Cancer on an Ultrasound?An ultrasound of the pelvis is usually the first test that is ordered to see if there is any problem with the ovaries or other pelvic organs. It can detect ovarian masses and help the doctor know if they are fluid-filled ovarian cysts or ovarian tumors. If the doctor suspects ovarian cancer, they may order additional tests.
Does Ovarian Cancer Show Up on Blood Work?A person with ovarian cancer may have high levels of a substance called the CA-125 (cancer or carcinoma antigen-125) in the blood. CA-125 antigen is known by several other names, such as ovarian cancer antigen and CA-125 tumor marker. It is a protein present on the surface of most (but not all) ovarian cells. Thus, significantly high levels of CA-125 may be seen in the blood of ovarian cancer patients.
How Long Do You Have to Live With Stage IV Ovarian Cancer?Stage IV cancer means the disease has already spread to distant organs. In most patients diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer, the 5-year survival rate is approximately 17%.
How Would I Know if I Have Ovarian Cancer?Ovarian cancer is cancer of the ovaries that produce eggs. Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, abdominal pain, reduced appetite, bloating, pelvic pain, constipation and an increased urge to urinate.
What Are the Stages of Ovarian Cancer?Ovarian cancer is a disease where abnormal cells in the ovary begin to grow and divide uncontrollably, forming a mass of undifferentiated tumor cells. These cells tend to invade nearby and distant sites in the body, deteriorating their function. The ovaries are pair of internal reproductive glands found only in females.
Is There a Blood Test for Ovarian Cancer?The CA-125 blood test is one of clinical assessments used to diagnose ovarian cancer. However, CA-125 or other tumor markers alone are insufficient to diagnose ovarian cancer.
Ovarian CancerThere are many types of ovarian cancer, epithelial carcinoma is the most common. Women with a family history of ovarian cancer have an increased risk of developing the disease. Some ovarian cancer symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and abnormal vaginal bleeding, however, they usually do not present until the disease has progressed. Early diagnosis is important for successful treatment.
Ovarian Cancer SlidesOvarian cancer symptoms and signs include abdominal pain, bloating, frequent urination, and a feeling of fullness. Ovarian cancer treatment depends on the stage and may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapy.
Ovarian Cancer QuizHow common is ovarian cancer and who is at risk? Take our Ovarian Cancer Quiz to learn the causes, symptoms, and treatment for this disease.
What Are the Symptoms of Stage 1 Ovarian Cancer?At stage 1 of ovarian cancer, the cancer is present only in the ovaries i.e. it has not spread in any other organs. Signs and symptoms at this stage may include a mass felt in the abdomen, distension or swelling of abdomen, abnormal vaginal bleeding (between menstrual periods or after menopause) and other signs. Stage 1 ovarian cancer has no symptoms in many women, however; often they may not experience symptoms until the cancer has spread significantly.
What Was Your First Sign of Ovarian Cancer?Like all types of cancer, ovarian cancer is often asymptomatic. The first signs of ovarian cancer may vary from patient to patient. Typically, ovarian cancer symptoms might appear as common stomach and digestive problems that are often mistaken for minor ailments.
Who Is at High Risk for Ovarian Cancer?The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age. Almost half of the ovarian cancer cases are seen in women older than 63 years of age. Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of gynecological cancer-related deaths among women between the ages of 35 and 74 years.