Ovarian cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer among people assigned female at birth. It causes more deaths than any other type of gynecological cancer. The overall risk of developing advanced ovarian cancer is about 1 in 78.
The good news: ovarian cancer is treatable, especially when it is caught early. When ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated in its earliest stages, the five-year survival rate is about 94 percent. Learn more about advanced ovarian cancer and its cancer treatment options below.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
The ovaries are two small organs located on either side of the uterus. They are about the size and shape of almonds, and their main role involves producing eggs (called ova) and synthesizing the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Ovarian cancer refers to cancers that originate in the cells of the ovaries. There are three main types of cells that make up the ovaries, and each of these can potentially become cancerous. Epithelial cells make up the outer surface of each ovary. About 85 to 90 percent of ovarian cancers are epithelial cell tumors. Germ cells are the cells that are responsible for producing the eggs, and they typically comprise less than 2 percent of ovarian cancers. Stromal cells make up the general structure of the ovaries, hold each ovary together, and produce estrogen and progesterone. Only about 1 percent of ovarian cancer cases originate in the stromal cells, and stromal tumors are typically found in older women.
Growths of all kinds can potentially appear on the ovaries like ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer, and not all of these are necessarily dangerous. Many are benign, meaning they never grow or spread beyond the ovaries and present no health issues. Others are malignant, or cancerous and capable of growing and contributing to serious health problems. Some growths are considered “borderline,” meaning they have a low potential of becoming malignant.
Ovarian Cancer Signs and Symptoms
Much like other types of cancer, ovarian cancer typically does not present with any noticeable symptoms in its early stages. Any symptoms that do show up can be easy to ignore or mistake for other common health conditions. Most symptoms don’t show up until the cancer has grown or spread to other parts of the body.
The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- Bloating or swelling with sudden weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Trouble eating, getting full quickly, and other appetite issues
- Urinary problems, including increased frequency or urgency
- General fatigue
- Pain during sex
As you can imagine, these symptoms can be easily written off as other conditions, from urinary tract infections to simple indigestion. This is why going off of symptoms alone can be misleading. The only way to truly know if you have ovarian cancer is with a professional diagnosis.
Ovarian Cancer Treatment Options
The sooner you get diagnosed, the sooner you can receive treatment for your ovarian cancer. Treatment options for ovarian cancer vary based on the extent of the cancer and your own needs. So, how is ovarian cancer treated? Below are some of the most common forms of treatment.
Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy x-rays or particles to kill cancer cells. This cancer care typically isn’t as effective as chemotherapy, so radiation therapy is rarely used as the main treatment. However, it can be an effective option for areas where the cancer has spread.
External beam radiation therapy is the most common form of this treatment for ovarian cancer. The process is similar to getting an x-ray, but the radiation is significantly stronger. The radiation is focused directly on the cancer for just a few minutes. Treatments usually continue for five days a week for several weeks for ovarian cancer patients.
The process is painless, though you may deal with certain side effects, like fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The skin in the area getting treated may feel sunburnt, and you may experience vaginal irritation or discharge if the radiation is directed at the pelvis. These side effects are temporary and go away once the treatment stops.
This form of targeted therapy uses hormones or hormone-blocking medication to effectively kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. This isn’t a common form of ovarian cancer care for epithelial ovarian cancer, but it is highly effective on stromal cell tumors.
Types of hormone medication vary. The most common include:
- LHRH agonists – Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) agonists essentially inhibit estrogen production in the ovaries. These drugs are injected every one to three months.
- Tamoxifen – Tamoxifen, which is commonly used for treating breast cancers, acts as an anti-estrogen medication similar to LHRH agonists. The idea is to prevent any existing estrogen in the body from stimulating the growth of cancer cells.
- Aromatase inhibitors – Aromatase inhibitors are designed to stop the enzyme aromatase. This enzyme converts other hormones into estrogen.
As you can imagine, altering your hormones in any way can come with potential side effects. Consult your doctor to determine if hormone therapy would be right for you.
Is ovarian cancer treatable? Thankfully, yes. As with most cancers, the earlier that ovarian cancer is treated, the more successful the outcome. For more information about treatment options, reach out to Immunity Therapy Center today!
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.