11 Early signs 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. However, common early signs and symptoms may include
- Constant discomfort in the lower abdomen
- Persistent stomach bloating
- An enlarged abdomen or a lump felt on lying down
- Difficulty eating and feeling full quickly
- Frequent urination
- Constipation and other digestive changes
- Difficulty breathing
- Low fever
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Abdominal, back, or pelvic pain
- Loss of energy and appetite
Most ovarian cancers are diagnosed in older women; they are rarely diagnosed in women younger than 40 years of age and are more often diagnosed in women who are going through or have reached menopause. Other signs of ovarian cancer are as follows:
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a disease where some of the cells in one or both ovaries start to grow abnormally and develop into a mass. The ovaries are responsible for the production of eggs and female hormones during a woman’s reproductive life. Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries but can quickly spread throughout the body. There are three types of ovarian cancer:
- Epithelial tumor: It is the most common type that affects the surface layers of the ovary.
- Germ cell tumor: It begins in the cells that eventually develop into the eggs.
- Stromal cell and other rare types: They may include sex-cord stromal cell ovarian cancer, stromal tumors and sarcomas.
It is also possible to have borderline epithelial tumors that are sometimes called low malignant potential tumors.
Women older than 63 years of age are at high risk of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of gynecological cancer-related deaths among women aged 35 to 74 years of age. Most forms of ovarian cancer develop after a woman reaches menopause. Other risk factors may include:
- Being overweight
- Addictions such as smoking and (less commonly) alcohol consumption
- Having children after 35 years of age or never having a full-term pregnancy
- Taking hormone therapy, particularly estrogen alone, after menopause
- Having a family history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer
- Polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD)
- Diabetes mellitus
- Certain types of birth control pills
- Talc granulomas in the ovaries due to the use of talcum powder in the sanitary pads
Stages of ovarian cancer (FIGO system):
- Stage I: Cancer is in one or both the ovaries only.
- Stage II: Cancer is in one or both the ovaries and has spread to other organs in the pelvis (uterus, fallopian tubes, bladder, or bowel).
- Stage III: Cancer is in one or both the ovaries and has spread beyond the pelvis to the peritoneum (lining of the abdomen) or the nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage IV: Cancer has spread further to distant organs such as the lung or liver.
Ovarian cancer treatment depends upon the stage of cancer, size of the tumor, age and health of the woman. Most often, ovarian cancer is treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.
Surgery is the most common treatment for ovarian cancer. Surgery options can include
- Salpingo-oophorectomy: It involves removal of one or both the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
- Debulking: It involves removal of as much of the tumor as possible.
- Hysterectomy: It involves removal of the uterus and sometimes the cervix.
- Omentectomy: It involves removal of the fatty tissue that covers the organs in the lower abdomen.
- External beam radiation treatments may be used for recurring ovarian cancer. During this treatment, a high-energy beam of radiation is directed to the tumor for a few minutes. This procedure is repeated five days a week for several weeks.
- Special drugs designed to kill the cancer cells can be given as a pill or an intravenous (IV) injection or can be injected into the abdominal cavity. Chemotherapy can be given in combination with surgery.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat balanced diet with fruits and vegetables
- Be physically active, at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week
- Abstain from tobacco; no form is safe
- Drink alcohol in moderation, for example, one drink/day for women
Awareness is the key. Women need to be counseled routinely on the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, hopefully leading to early detection and treatment. Because ovarian cancer is typically diagnosed in the later stages, only about 20 percent of patients remain disease-free after initial therapy. That means further treatment is required. Every year, more than 20,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). The five-year survival rate is extremely high for patients with localized ovarian cancer and for those whose ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated early. These women often go on to live long, healthy lives. However, the rate for all stages combined is under 50 percent, and stage IV ovarian cancer has a very low long-term rate of survival.
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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%.
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.
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What Are the Main Causes of Ovarian Cancer?Each cell in the body survives, grows, and dies under regulated conditions. The term cancer means an uncontrolled growth of cells.
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 Is The Main Cause of Ovarian Cysts?Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled growths that grow on the ovary. Learn the signs of an ovarian cyst, what causes ovarian cysts, how doctors diagnose ovarian cysts, and what you can do to treat an ovarian cyst. 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.
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.