Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the ovaries. The female reproductive system contains two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries — each about the size of an almond — produce eggs (ova) and the hormones estrogen and progesterone.Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, ovarian cancer is more challenging to treat. Early-stage ovarian cancer, in which the disease is confined to the ovary, is more likely to be treated successfully.
What are the types of ovarian cancer?
The type of cell where cancer begins determines the type of ovarian cancer you have. Ovarian cancer types include:
Epithelial tumors, which start in the thin layer of tissue that covers the outside of the ovaries. About 90 percent of ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors.
Stromal tumors, which form in the ovarian tissue that contains hormone-producing cells. These tumors are usually diagnosed at an earlier stage than other ovarian tumors. About 7 percent of ovarian tumors are stromal.
Germ cell tumors, which begin in the egg-producing cells. These rare ovarian cancers tend to occur in younger women.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Early-stage ovarian cancer rarely causes any symptoms. Advanced-stage ovarian cancer may cause few and nonspecific symptoms that are often mistaken for more common benign conditions.Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:
Abdominal bloating or swelling
Quickly feeling full when eating.
Discomfort in the pelvis area
Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
A frequent need to urinate
What causes ovarian cancer?
It's not clear what causes ovarian cancer, though doctors have identified factors that can increase the disease's risk.In general, cancer begins when a cell develops errors (mutations) in its DNA. The mutations tell the cell to grow and multiply quickly, creating a mass (tumor) of abnormal cells. The abnormal cells continue living when healthy cells would die. They can invade nearby tissues and break off from an initial tumor to spread elsewhere in the body (metastasize).
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
Tests and procedures used to diagnose ovarian cancer include:
Pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam, your doctor inserts gloved fingers into your vagina and simultaneously presses a hand on your abdomen to feel (palpate) your pelvic organs. The doctor also visually examines your external genitalia, vagina, and cervix.
Imaging tests. Tests, such as ultrasound or CT scans of your abdomen and pelvis, may help determine the size, shape, and structure of your ovaries.
Blood tests. Blood tests might include organ function tests that can help determine your overall health.
Surgery. Sometimes your doctor can't be confident of your diagnosis until you undergo surgery to remove an ovary and have it tested for signs of cancer.
How is ovarian cancer managed or treated?
Treatment of ovarian cancer usually involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.Operations to remove ovarian cancer include:
Surgery to remove one ovary. For very early-stage cancer that hasn't spread beyond one ovary, surgery may involve removing the affected ovary and its fallopian tube.
Surgery to remove both ovaries. If cancer is present in both your ovaries, but there are no signs of additional cancer; your surgeon may remove both ovaries and both fallopian tubes.
Surgery to remove both ovaries and the uterus. Suppose your cancer is more extensive, or you don't wish to preserve your ability to have children.
Surgery for advanced cancer. If your cancer is advanced, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy followed by surgery to remove as much cancer as possible.