In this article, you’ll get everything you need to know about Ovarian Cancer.
Ovarian cancer is a type of malignancy that begins in the ovaries. It appears when cells of the ovary become abnormal and can multiply quickly, forming a tumor that can spread to other tissues. Ovarian cancer is common but hard to detect early. Women with the disease might have mild or no symptoms at all until it becomes advanced enough to spread. The four main types of ovarian cancer are invasive epithelial, stromal, or germ cell tumor. This article focuses on the essential information regarding ovarian cancer, its risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
How common is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is the second most prevalent gynecologic cancer in women and the one causing the most deaths in the US. An estimated 21,750 women will present with the disease in 2020, and about 13,940 will die from it. Ovarian cancer affects mostly older women as half of all cases concern women 63 years or older. The five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer differs for each of its types. It depends on the timing of diagnosis and the stage of the disease. For example, a localized fallopian tube cancer has a 94% five-year survival rate, whereas a distant one has 45%. However, these numbers improve every year as new treatments arrive.
What are the risk factors of ovarian cancer?
The most important risk factors of ovarian cancer are age and a family history of ovarian or breast cancer. A risk factor might raise your chances of developing a disease, but that doesn’t mean you will unquestionably present with it. The following are some of the most well-known risk factors of ovarian cancer:
- Being over 65 years old
- Having a family history of ovarian or breast cancer
- Being overweight or obese
- Using talcum powder
- Using hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Having diabetes
- Having endometriosis
Symptoms and signs of ovarian cancer
Most cases of ovarian cancer are initially asymptomatic until they progress. Only about 20% of the cases receive a diagnosis in the early stages. Sometimes it’s because ovarian cancer might start as a silent disease, and other times it mimics other conditions or disturbances. Unfortunately, women might start experiencing symptoms in advanced cancer stages in which the tumor has spread to other parts of the body. However, if a woman presents with early symptoms of ovarian cancer, the signs might mimic other gastroenterological illnesses. The following are some of the most common symptoms that a woman with ovarian cancer might experience:
- Abdominal bloating
- Appetite changes
- Pressure or pain in the pelvis
- Frequent urination
- Lower back discomfort
- Changes in bowel habits
- Menstrual changes
When there is an ovarian cyst or tumor, the patient might feel nauseous and experience pelvic pain, which is also intense when period approaches or finishes. There might be an abdominal swelling, apparent in slimmer women. Pain during sex or difficulties urinating might also present with ovarian cancer. Finally, some women experience abnormal, intermittent vaginal bleeding.
Types of ovarian cancer
The type of ovarian cancer depends on the cell of its origin. The most common types of cells that may give rise to ovarian cancer are epithelial, germ, and stromal cells. Each class of cells has a different role and functioning. For example, the epithelial ones line the outer layer of the ovary, whereas the stromal ones have to do with hormones that the ovary releases. The three most prevalent general types of ovarian cancer are the following:
- Ovarian epithelial cancer
- Germ cell tumors
- Sex cord-stromal tumors
Diagnosis of ovarian cancer
Physicians do not rely on your symptoms to make a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. However, in correlation with your personal and family history, they might convince your doctor to investigate further for potential malignancy. One of the first steps to diagnose ovarian cancer is performing a pelvic exam to look for abnormal swellings or masses. Lab tests are more specific and include a CA-125 test to detect the tumor marker for ovarian cancer in your blood. Advanced genomic testing and nutrition panels might also be necessary. Finally, you might need to undergo some imaging tests, such as a CT, MRI, or PET-CT scans, and an ultrasound, to evaluate the extent of the tumor and look for metastasis.
What is the treatment of ovarian cancer?
The treatment of ovarian cancer depends on many factors. However, doctors usually recommend surgery followed by chemotherapy. According to the type of cancer, stage, and personal characteristics and requirements of the patient, the following treatments are available for ovarian cancer:
- Hormone therapy
- Ovarian cortex cryopreservation
- Targeted therapy
Although a specific method might not apply to you, it might be life-saving for another woman. Many patients benefit from a combination of treatments rather than monotherapy. The goal of the surgical approach is to debulk, meaning to remove all the signs of visible ovarian cancer. Doctors then suggest chemotherapy to kill any cancerous cells left, using medication. Ovarian cortex cryopreservation is freezing ovarian tissue to preserve the ability of fertilization. This option is popular among women who want to become pregnant in the future. Hormone therapy does not allow cancer cells to grow by depriving them of the hormones they need. Targeted therapy involves PARP inhibitors, which do not let cancer cells repair themselves.