Ovarian cancer

Ovarian Cancer


The ovaries are part of a woman's reproductive system. The reproductive system is made up of the vagina, womb or uterus (which includes the cervix), fallopian tubes and ovaries.

Cancer that forms in tissues of the ovary, glands in which the ova, or eggs, are formed. Most ovarian cancers are either ovarian epithelial carcinomas (cancer that begins in the cells on the surface of the ovary) or malignant germ cell tumors (cancer that begins in egg cells). Ovarian cancer is a cancer affecting the ovaries, which are the organs responsible for secretion of female hormones and ovulation in women, and situated in the pelvis.


There are some early symptoms like vague pain and discomfort but most of the time there is no definite symptom. Most patients have a decreased appetite and may also feel a mass in the abdomen, which is due to the ovarian tumour. This tumour leads to accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, which causes the girth to increase and also leads to decreased appetite.

Later stage disease can cause symptoms from the tumour growing in the pelvis. This can cause irregular periods, lower tummy (abdominal) pain, back pain, passing urine more often than usual, constipation, pain during sex, and swollen abdomen.

Causes and Risk Factors:

Although we know that ovarian cancer, like many other cancers, is caused by cells dividing and multiplying in an unordered way, nobody completely understands why cancer of the ovary occurs. We know that the following risk factors are linked to a higher chance of developing the disease.

Age: The majority of ovarian cancers occur in women over 60-65 years of age. Higher percentage of postmenopausal women develop ovarian cancer compared to premenopausal women.

Family History: Women with close relatives who have or had colon cancer, prostate cancer, or uterine cancer are also at higher risk of ovarian cancer.

Breast cancer: Women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.


Early diagnosis is the key to successful treatment and cure. Go in for regular gyno checkups and ultrasound of the pelvis. Women who have a high risk of ovarian cancer (eg. those that have a strong family history of the disease) have been shown to benefit from the use of oral contraceptives. - If one has a proven inherited genetic mutation for the disease can consider a total abdominal hysterectomy with removal of both ovaries. These methods only help reduce the risk but not eradicate it completely.

If your specialist is concerned that you may have ovarian cancer, you will have some tests arranged. These may include a blood test for CA125 an ultrasound, a CT scan or a MRI scan.


The treatment of ovarian cancer is based on the stage of the disease which is a reflection of the extent or spread of the cancer to other parts of the body. Staging is performed by the surgeon (gynecologic oncologist) when the ovarian cancer is removed. During the surgical procedure the surgeon will obtain small pieces of tissue from various sites in the abdominal cavity. During this procedure, depending on the stage (extent) of the disease, the surgeon will either remove just the ovary and fallopian tube or will remove both ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus. In addition, the surgeon will attempt to remove as much of the cancer as possible.

Stages: Stage I cancer is confined to one or both ovaries. The cancer is Stage II if either one or both of the ovaries is involved and has spread to the uterus and/or the fallopian tubes or other sites in the pelvis. The cancer is Stage III cancer if one or both of the ovaries is involved and has spread to lymph nodes or other sites outside of the pelvis but is still within the abdominal cavity, such as the surface of the intestine or liver. The cancer is Stage IV cancer if one or both ovaries is involved and has spread outside the abdomen or has spread to the inside of the liver.

Treatment is usually a combination of chemotherapy and surgery. These tumours respond well to chemotheraputic drugs. Typically, a patient would undergo three cycles of chemotherapy followed by cytoreductive surgery followed by three more cycles of chemotherapy The best modality of management of early ovarian cancer is surgical, done preferably by an oncosurgeon. The aim is to remove the entire diseased parts from the pelvis and abdomen.

Radiation Therapy: Radiation can be given internally or externally. The type of radiation given depends on the stage and type of ovarian cancer. Radiation therapy is the use of certain types of energy, radiation is used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. This energy can be waves or particles like protons, electrons, x-rays and gamma rays.

All treatments must be fully researched before they can be adopted as standard treatment for everyone. This is so that we can be sure they work better than the treatments we already use. And so we know they are safe. First of all, treatments are developed and tested in laboratories. Only after we know that they are likely to be safe to test are they tested in people, in clinical trials.

Researchers are looking into preventing and finding ovarian cancer earlier, chemotherapy, biological therapies, hormone treatment, tests during follow up, fertility drugs and bowel problems after radiotherapy.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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