What is ovarian cancer?
The ovaries are the part of the female reproductive system that
produce eggs every month during a woman's reproductive years. They are located
on either side of the lower abdomen. Ovarian cancer occurs when cells in the
ovary grow and divide uncontrollably. The cells may form a tumor on the ovary,
or they can also break off from the main tumor and spread to other parts of the
body. Although ovarian cancer can spread throughout the entire body, in most
cases it stays in the abdomen and affects organs such as the intestines, liver
and stomach. There are many different types of ovarian cancer. However, most
cancers of the ovary (85 percent-90 percent) come from the cells that make up
the outer lining of the organ, and are called epithelial ovarian
What are the symptoms of ovarian
There are usually no obvious symptoms of
ovarian cancer. Women complain about vague symptoms including abdominal
swelling or bloating, generalized abdominal discomfort, fullness after meals,
lack of appetite, upset stomach, malaise, urinary frequency or weight change
(either gain or loss). Women may develop unexplained fluid in the abdominal
cavity that contributes to the abdominal discomfort. Because these
symptoms are not unique to ovarian cancer, the disease can be difficult to
identify and diagnose.
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
A definitive diagnosis of ovarian cancer
requires surgery. The initial surgery has two aims. First, to remove any cancer
that exists (or as much as possible), including removing the ovaries and the
uterus. Second, to sample tissues and surrounding nodes to determine where the
tumor has spread (to determine the stage of the disease). The best results for
survival occur when all the cancer can be removed.
What are the treatment options for ovarian
After the initial diagnosis has been
established at surgery, additional therapy will depend on several factors,
including the cell type, the stage, the extent of spread of the cancer and the
amount of tumor remaining at the end of the initial surgery. Treatment includes
chemotherapy or radiation.
What are the risk factors for ovarian
The following may increase your chances of
getting ovarian cancer: a high-fat diet, never having children or not having
children until late in life, infertility, using fertility drugs but not
becoming pregnant, starting your periods at a young age or going through
menopause at an older than average age, use of talcum powder on
the genital area, belonging to the Caucasian race or being of Jewish
descent, and having a family history of ovarian or breast cancer. Of
these risk factors, the most significant is a family history of breast and/or
ovarian cancer. Having one close relative with ovarian cancer increases a
woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer by nearly three times. There also are
a number of factors that are associated with a lower risk of ovarian cancer,
including use of birth control pills, having multiple children, breast feeding,
tubal ligation and having the ovaries removed. Even with significant risk
factors such as family history, the overall chances of getting ovarian cancer
are still small.
Is ovarian cancer hereditary?
Most ovarian cancers are not inherited.
However, about 5 percent to 10 percent of ovarian cancers do run in families.
Generally, the risk of developing ovarian cancer increases as the number of
family members affected by ovarian cancer increases. Having a first-degree
relative affected by ovarian cancer (for example, a mother or a sister)
increases a womans lifetime risk from 1.4 percent to 3.1 percent.
Sometimes ovarian, breast and other cancers seem to run in families. Talk to
your doctor about genetic tests that can tell you more about your chances of
getting ovarian cancer.
What can I do to prevent ovarian
There are no known ways to guarantee prevention
of ovarian cancer. Women who are diagnosed in an early stage, however, have a
higher survival rate. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is usually not diagnosed at
an early stage. Currently, no effective methods for diagnosing ovarian cancer
Can I get ovarian cancer if I have my
Women at a very high risk of developing ovarian
cancer can consider removal of the ovaries. This appears to lower the risk of
developing ovarian cancer, but does not eliminate the risk. In general, women
found to be carriers of an ovarian or breast cancer gene or who have a strong
family history may be appropriate candidates for removal of the ovaries.
You can find more about ovarian cancer by
contacting the following organization:
National Cancer Institutes Cancer