In women, the ovaries are present on each side of uterus. These are responsible for producing hormones estrogen and progesterone as well as ova, .i.e., eggs. The abnormal growth of malignant cells in the ovaries is known as ovarian cancer. The ovarian tumors may be benign or malignant. The malignant type of tumor generally spreads through the blood stream or lymph, or may spread to other parts of the body like abdomen, pelvis, etc. It is normally found in the patients above the age of fifty years. It is ranked as the fifth most common cancer responsible for death in women.
If the mother, daughter or sister of a woman has ovarian cancer history, she is likely to develop it. Similarly women with genetic mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2 are also at a greater risk. If a woman did not have a child in her entire life, or has been diagnosed with a cancer of rectum, uterus, colon, breast, then such woman is more prone to ovarian cancer. The other factors include endometriosis, early menarche, diet rich in fats, late menopause, etc.
Though these are the possible risk factors, the exact cause still remains a question.
Signs and Symptoms
It is essential that every woman is encouraged to know the possible signs and symptoms in order to catch the disease in the initial stages itself. The most common include pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty in eating, getting a feeling of fullness quickly, continuous feeling of bloating, bowel problems, change in frequency of urination, change in bladder habits, lack of energy, increase in abdominal girth, etc. These symptoms may point to cancer or other less serious problems. Since these symptoms are very common, they can be overlooked, thus progressing cancer to later stages.
As the symptoms are nonspecific, diagnosis of ovarian cancer can be a tough job. It will normally involve a pelvic examination, transvaginal ultrasound, and a blood test for CA-125. Sometimes, a surgical procedure like laparotomy or laparoscopy may be required to look into the abdomen, remove suspicous areas and fluid for further examination. A CT scan, barium enema x-rays, MRI, PET, are some other tests required to confirm whether the patient is suffering from ovarian cancer or not.
Treatment of ovarian cancer patients is dependent on their general health, whether they are planning to have children, type and stage of cancer. To determine the spread of cancer surgery may be done. It serves two purposes, staging and debulking. Debulking refers to maximum limit to which the tumor is removed. Chemotherapy is used to kill cancerous cells or shrink the tumors. The drugs are given through mouth, or into a vein. Targeted therapy is used nowadays to attack only the cancerous cells without causing much damage to the normal cells. Hormonal and radiation therapy, palliative treatment are some other ways to treat ovarian cancer.
Using birth control pills for more than five years, hysterectomy, tubal ligation, removing ovaries, giving birth to more than one child, breast feeding, are some of the ways to lower and prevent ovarian cancer.
If you notice any of the above signs or symptoms consistently for more than six months, it is importantl that you talk to your gynecologic oncologist immediately and carry out the required tests to rule out the possibility of ovarian cancer.