A woman has two ovaries from either sides of the uterus that are responsible for producing eggs, the female hormones estrogen, progesterone as well as testosterone.
As the name suggests, ovarian cancer is a form of cancer that originates from the ovaries. Ovarian cancer normally remains undetected until it has spread within the abdomen and the pelvis. This is a fatal stage as it is difficult to treat it.
Ovarian cancer has no specific symptoms unique to the disease and they are usually a mimic of several other conditions such as digestive problems.
Generally, ovarian cancer is exhibited by:
- Abdominal pressure,
- Bloating or Swelling,
- Discomfort in the pelvic,
- Change in bowel behavior such as constipation,
- Recurrent indigestion,
- Gas or Nausea,
- Change in bladder habits such as frequent need to urinate,
- Recurrent lack of energy,
- Lower back pain,
- Loss of appetite or feeling full fast, and
- Increased abdominal girth characterized by clothes fitting tighter around the waist.
One should see a doctor immediately they experience any of these symptoms. A family history of ovarian cancer increases the risk for the disease. If there is such history, it’s good to see a doctor to discuss testing of possible gene mutations that heighten the risk for ovarian and breast cancer.
There’s no known cause for ovarian cancer. Cancer usually starts when healthy cells acquire a genetic mutation that transforms normal cells into abnormal cells. Healthy or normal cells grow and multiply at a controlled rate and die at a definite time. However, cancer cells grow and multiply uncontrollably and do not die at a definite time. As abnormal cells accumulate, they form a tumor (mass of abnormal cells). These cancer cells invade neighboring tissues and can break off from an original tumor to spread in some other parts of the body in a process called metastasize.
Types of Ovarian Cancer
Depending on the origin of cancerous cells, it determines what type of ovarian cancer one has. They include:
- Epithelial tumors: this is cancer that begins in the thin layers of tissues on the exterior of the ovaries. This type of cancer is the most common.
- Germ cell tumors: this is cancer that originates from the egg producing cells and is usually common in young women.
- Stromal tumors: This cancer begins in the ovarian tissue that produces the hormones progesterone, estrogen and testosterone.
Knowing the type of ovarian cancer that one has is useful in determining prognosis and treatment.
There are certain factors that increase the chances of having ovarian cancer. However, it is not a guarantee to have ovarian cancer if a woman has one or more of these factors, but it increases the risk of having it than for an average woman. The risks include;
- Inherited gene mutation: the genes known to increase chances of ovarian cancer are known as breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2). The genes were identified in families with histories of breast cancer but have also been linked to increased risk of ovarian cancer. In addition, there is also a gene relation to ovarian cancer associated with hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) which increases the risk of cancers of the colon, endometrium, stomach, and of the ovaries. Genetic mutation accounts for a considerably lower portion of ovarian cancer cases.
- Increasing age: the risk of ovarian cancer increases with age. Most ovarian cancers occur after menopause.
- Family history of ovarian cancer: if there are women in your family who have had ovarian cancer, you then have a higher risk of the disease.
- Never being pregnant: Women who have never been pregnant have a higher risk developing of ovarian cancer.
A past cancer diagnosis: if you have been diagnosed with another form of cancer especially colon, breast, uterus or rectum cancers, the risk for ovarian cancer is high.
Ovarian cancer can be diagnosed through pelvic examination, ultrasound, surgery to remove tissue samples for testing, or CA 125 blood test. After diagnosis ovarian cancer can be staged and treatment option determined.
- Stage I. Ovarian cancer is limited to one or both ovaries.
- Stage II. Ovarian cancer has spread to other parts of the pelvis, such as the fallopian tubes or the uterus.
- Stage III. Ovarian cancer has spread beyond the pelvis or to the lymph nodes in the abdomen.
- Stage IV. Ovarian cancer has spread to organs beyond the abdomen, such as the liver or the lungs.
Usually stages III and IV are lethal although they can be treated with proper technology. Ovarian cancer treatments include surgery which is an extensive operation that may entail the removal of ovaries, uterus and the fallopian tubes and other areas around the uterus that the cancer may have spread into. Chemotherapy may also be performed even after surgery.
Ultimately cancer is an agonizing ailment and patients need care and support in order to cope and recover.