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Everything You Need to Know About Ovarian Cancer

Empower yourself with comprehensive knowledge about ovarian cancer, from risk factors to treatment options.

  • 11 Sep 2023
  • 5 min read
  • 54 views

Ovarian cancer is a form of cancer that is not often talked about. It is a type of cancer that grows in the ovaries, which are the main part of the female reproductive system. Women who are diagnosed with this form of cancer often do not exhibit any symptoms in the early stages of the disease, which can make it difficult to catch. Unfortunately, this also means that the cancer has typically spread to other parts of the body by the time it is detected, making it more difficult to treat successfully. While the thought can be scary, it is important to understand the various ovarian cancer symptoms, in order to catch it as early as possible. In this article, we'll explore everything you need to know about ovarian cancer- from risk factors and symptoms to ovarian cancer stages diagnosis, treatments, and more. We hope our insights leave you feeling educated and empowered in your battle against ovarian cancer!

 

What is ovarian cancer?

Women have two ovaries which are an important part of the female reproductive system. Ovaries are located on each side of the uterus and produce eggs and hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer can start in one or both ovaries, when abnormal cells grow and multiply out of control and even in the abdominal lining, called the peritoneum. Like other cancers, ovarian cancer can invade and grow spreading to other tissues and organs leading to a condition known as metastasis. Epithelial ovarian cancer is reported to be the most common type of ovarian cancer, in which cancer cells start growing on the surface of the ovary.

 

Symptoms of ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer-related symptoms are hard to find in its earliest stages, and is often detected in the advanced stage of cancer.  So it is always recommended to consult a gynaecologist in cases of irregular menstruation or any abnormalities related to the female reproductive system. The ovarian cancer symptoms include:

  • Vaginal bleeding (not occuring because of menstruation)
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Watery or white vaginal discharge that contains blood
  • Urge to urinate frequently
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Fullness after eating less amount of food
  • Bleeding from the vagina after menopause
  • Gastrointestinal problems like bloating
  • Swelling in the lower abdomen
  • Pain in the lower belly
  • Constipation
  • Painful intercourse
  • Fatigue

Risk factors associated with ovarian cancer

According to studies, there is no particular way to prevent ovarian cancer, but we might be able to reduce the chances of developing this disease by understanding a few risk factors, such as: 

  • Women with advancing age between 50 to 79 years are at a higher risk of getting this cancer
  • Inherited gene mutations (such as BRCA): The genes that are responsible for ovarian cancer are breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2), which increase the risk for breast or ovarian cancer. You can consult with your doctor about getting gene testing, especially if the risk runs in your family.
  • Certain post-menopausal conditions can trigger the cells of the female reproductive system to mutate, leading to ovarian cancer.
  • Birth control: Most studies have found that women using oral contraceptives or taking long-acting progesterone shots every 3 months for birth control have a slightly higher risk of ovarian cancer than women who have never used them.
  • Being overweight or obese has been directly linked to having a higher risk of developing many cancers, including ovarian cancer.
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapy, in which oestrogen combined with progesterone has been used to help relieve symptoms of menopause, have been found to increase the risk of developing cancer.
  • Having a family history of endometrial cancer or colorectal cancer can also raise the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

 

Stages of ovarian cancer

After diagnosing ovarian cancer, healthcare professionals assess its stage and grade to develop an effective treatment plan. There are four ovarian cancer stages, determined by the extent of the disease's spread.

  • Stage I: In this ovarian cancer stage, cancer is present in both ovaries and fallopian tubes and in the space around the ovary (called the peritoneal cavity).
  • Stage II: In this stage, the cancer is not only in the ovaries but has spread to the uterus and also to other nearby structures in the pelvis.
  • Stage III: In this stage, the tumour is 2 centimetres or more in size, and has spread beyond the pelvic area, lymph nodes and it could impact other organs, like the liver and spleen.
  • Stage IV: Stage IV cancer is the most severe stage in which the cancer has spread to the inside of organs such as the liver or spleen, and also to the lymph nodes of the groin or into the chest.

Also read:

Types of ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancers are divided based on the cell in which they form. Three main common types of ovarian cancer have been reported so far namely:

  • Epithelial cells which occur in the lining of the ovary
  • Germ cells that forms eggs which help in reproduction
  • Stromal cells that form the structure of ovaries and help in hormone release

 

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

A doctor diagnoses ovarian cancer based on the existing signs and symptoms and may ask for a medical history, and a thorough physical examination. Here are a few steps that a doctor make take in the process of diagnosis:

1. The doctor will first ask about family and medical history, since a family history of cancer or the presence of any existing medical conditions raises the risk of ovarian cancer.
2. CA 125 blood test: This test measures the level of Cancer Antigen 125 (CA 125) protein in the blood. High levels of this antigen may indicate the presence of ovarian cancer.
3. Pelvic exam: The doctor will examine the cervix and assess the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes for any sort of lump. The doctor may take a small sample of cells from the which is then sent to a pathology lab.

4. Ultrasound: In this method, high-energy sound waves are used to create echoes that form a distinct picture of the pelvic area tissues.

5. Magnetic Resonance Imaging: This is a powerful technique that uses magnets and radio waves to create clear images of the ovaries.

6. Computed Tomography (CT) scan: This technique involves the use of a powerful X-ray that makes detailed images of our body.

 

How is ovarian cancer treated? 

The standard approach for ovarian cancer treatment typically includes a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. During surgery, doctors remove the cancerous tissue through an operation. Chemotherapy, on the other hand, involves the use of special medications to either shrink or eliminate the cancer. These medications can be taken orally or administered intravenously, and in some cases, a combination of both methods may be used.

Another treatment option for ovarian cancer is targeted therapies, which specifically target cancer cells in order to inhibit their growth or spread. These targeted therapy drugs can be taken orally or given through intravenous infusion. To determine the most suitable targeted ovarian cancer treatment specifically for you, your doctor may recommend genetic testing.

 

Can ovarian cancer be prevented?

While cancer cannot be prevented, there are certain things you can do to reduce your chances of developing this disease, especially if you are at a high risk of getting it. These include:

  • Using birth control pills for five or more years.
  • Undergoing tubal ligation, removal of ovaries or fallopian tubes, or a hysterectomy.
  • Having children and considering breastfeeding for a year or more.
  • Genetic testing could also help to look for a change in the genes responsible for ovarian cancer.
  • Maintain a healthy weight, as studies show being overweight may increase the risk of getting cancer

Remember to consult your doctor to discuss personalised strategies for reducing your risk. While these methods can be effective, it's important to weigh the risks and benefits associated with each option. For example, while birth control pills can lower ovarian cancer risk, they may increase the chances of breast cancer. Take proactive steps, but understand that there is no guarantee against cancer.

 

 

Conclusion 

While educating yourself is certainly an invaluable way to protect yourself from ovarian cancer, it's equally important to take further proactive steps like getting health insurance. Having health insurance can give you access to services that may help spot ovarian cancer in its early stages. Additionally, many health insurance plans cover expensive treatments and medications that will be helpful if you do develop ovarian cancer further down the road. We hope this article has shed light on what you need to know about ovarian cancer, but the main takeaway here is simple: knowledge is power! Equip yourself with strategies of protection in order to keep yourself safe against this severe disease.

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