About Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is a strain of cancer that is limited to women and occurs in the ovaries of the female reproductive system. Every woman has two ovaries that are almond-sized sacks attached by ligaments in the uterus. They are incredibly important for two primary reproductive functions:
- Fertilization – They produce and release oocyte (eggs) during the menstrual cycle.
- Hormone production – They produce reproductive hormones progesterone and estrogen.
According to the Healthline, every year: “Approximately 21,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In addition, roughly 14,000 women in the U.S. will die from it in the next year.” It’s most commonly found in white women over the age of 40, with half of all cases occurring in women over the age of 63. A woman’s risk of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 108. Typical strains of ovarian cancer include:
- Epithelial tumors – Account for 90% of all ovarian cancers. They occur in the thin layer of tissue on the outside of the ovaries.
- Stromal tumors – Account for 7% of all ovarian cancers. They begin in the ovarian tissue that has hormone-producing cells. For that reason, this strain is far more diagnosable in the early stages.
- Germ cell tumors – A rare type of ovarian cancer that occurs in the egg-producing cells of younger women.
- Peritoneal cancer – A rare form of cancer that acts and looks like ovarian cancer since the ovaries and peritoneum are made of epithelial cells. As a result, they have very similar symptoms and treatments, even though you can develop it even after your ovaries have been removed.
Causes and Risk Factors
Although we do not yet know the root causes for most ovarian cancers, we are aware of factors that make a woman more susceptible to developing epithelial tumors. Common risk factors include:
- Older age – Although it can happen at any age, it most commonly occurs in women ranging from ages of 50 to 60.
- Estrogen hormone replacement therapy – Long-term use and/or large doses of artificial hormones increase risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Age when menstruation either began or ended – If you begin menstruation early or start menopause late, it may increase risk.
- Family history – There have been proven links of genetic inheritance of the disease.
Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging
Unfortunately, early-stage ovarian cancer infrequently manifests symptoms. Even advanced-stage ovarian cancer rarely exhibits symptoms that aren’t relatively benign. As a result, it can be exceedingly difficult to detect. Such symptoms may look like:
- Feeling full after eating small amounts
- Frequent urination
- Pelvis discomfort
- Swelling in the abdomen
- Weight loss
If you see the signs, common tests your doctor can perform include:
- Pelvic Exam – A doctor makes a digital insertion into the vagina and then presses his or her other hand against the abdomen in order to palpate the pelvic organs.
- Imaging tests – CT scans and ultrasounds can be taken of the abdomen and pelvis to better gauge the size, shape and structure of the ovaries.
- Blood tests – A blood test may be able to tell if you have cancer cells within your body. Blood is drawn to test against tumor markers and proteins commonly found on ovarian cancer cells.
- Surgery – Sometimes it’s necessary to have one of the ovaries removed to test it for cancer.
Stages of Ovarian Cancer
There are four stages of ovarian cancer. They are:
- Stage I – The cancer remains in the ovaries and has yet to spread to localized or distant organs.
- Stage II – The cancer is in either one or both ovaries. It has also spread to the fallopian tubes or uterus.
- Stage III – The cancer is in either one or both ovaries. It has spread beyond the pelvic region to the abdominal lining or lymph nodes.
- Stage IV – The cancer has advanced and metastasized to distant organs.
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Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Ovarian Cancer Stages. https://www.cancercenter.com/cancer-types/ovarian-cancer/stages
Baber, R. NCBI. Menopausal hormone therapy and ovarian cancer. (2015). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604667/
Cancer.org. Ovarian Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/what-causes.html