The ovaries are the parts of the female reproductive system that produce a woman’s eggs and female hormones.
- Mass felt in the abdomen
- Distension or swelling of the abdomen
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (between menstrual periods or after menopause)
- Pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen
- Back pain
- Feeling full even with small portions of food
- Loss of appetite
- More frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation.
How do you get ovarian cancer?
There is no sure way to know if you will get ovarian cancer. But, there are several factors that put you at risk. These include:
- Having a close family member with a history of ovarian cancer
- Having a genetic mutation (abnormality) called BRCA1 or BRCA
- Having a gene connected with Lynch syndrome
- History of breast, uterine, or colon cancer
- Middle-age or older age
- Having an Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish background
- Having endometriosis (a condition in which tissue from the lining of the uterus grows elsewhere in the body).
- Nulliparity (describes a woman who has not given birth)
- Fertility treatments
- Being overweight has been linked to increased incidence of ovarian cancer.
- Being on hormone replacement therapy
What are the stages of ovarian cancer?
After a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, doctors will try to find out the cancer’s stage. This helps them to know about how far the cancer has spread so that they can treat it accordingly.
The stages of ovarian cancer range from stage I (1) through IV (4). The lower the number, the less the cancer has spread.
- Stage 1: Cancer is limited to one or both ovaries.
- Stage 2: Cancer has spread outside of ovaries but limited to the pelvis.
- Stage 3: Cancer has spread outside of the pelvis, but limited to the abdomen, or lymph node involvement, but not including the inside of the liver and spleen
- Stage 4: Cancer has spread to the liver or outside of the abdomen like to lungs.
Can Ovarian Cancer Be Found Early?
Only about 20% of ovarian cancers are diagnosed at an early stage. About 94% of patients live longer than 5 years after diagnosis when they find the cancer early.
Ovarian cancer can be found early by
- Regular checkup of women’s health: A regular pelvic examination can help detect ovarian cancers early by careful palpation (the doctor feels for abnormalities with their hands).
- Consulting a doctor in case of ovarian cancer symptoms: Prompt attention to symptoms may improve the chances of early diagnosis and successful treatment.
Screening tests are used to detect cancer in people with no symptoms. There is not enough research yet that has found a screening test to accurately detect ovarian cancer at an early stage. However, doctors have been using tests such as transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) and the CA-125 blood test to gain some early insight into potential ovarian cancer.
TVUS (transvaginal ultrasound): A probe inserted into the vagina and images are cast on the sonography screen to check if there is an ovarian tumor. The shortcoming of TVUS is that it cannot distinguish between a cancerous ovarian mass and a noncancerous ovarian mass.
CA-125 blood test: This test measures the amount of a protein called CA-125 in the blood. High CA-125 levels are suggestive of ovarian cancer. But, the problem with using this test for ovarian cancer screening is that an increased level of CA-125 is also found in other common conditions such as endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease. Also, not everyone who has ovarian cancer has a high CA-125 level.
A CT Scan is further used to confirm the diagnosis of ovarian tumor in case of abnormal CA-125 level or abnormal TVUS.
Some organizations advocate the use of the tests, TVUS and CA-125 test to identify those women who have a high risk of ovarian cancer due to a hereditary genetic syndrome such as Lynch syndrome, BRCA gene mutations or a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer.
A Pap test or HPV (human papillomavirus) test is the most widely used screening test for cervical cancer, but it is not a very effective test for ovarian cancer. Even if ovarian cancers are found through Pap tests, they usually are already at an advanced stage.
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