Ovarian cancer is cancer that starts in the ovaries. The ovaries are the female reproductive organs that produce eggs.
Cancer – ovaries
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women. It causes more deaths than any other type of female reproductive cancer.
The cause is unknown.
Risk of developing ovarian cancer may be due to:
- The fewer children a woman has and the later in life she gives birth, the higher her risk of ovarian cancer.
- Certain gene problems (defects in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes) are responsible for a small number of ovarian cancer cases.
- Women who have had breast cancer or have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- Women who take estrogen replacement only (not with progesterone) for 5 years or more may have a high risk of ovarian cancer. Birth control pills, however, decrease the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Fertility drugs probably do not increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Older women are at highest risk of developing ovarian cancer. Most deaths from ovarian cancer occur in women age 55 and older.
Ovarian cancer symptoms are often vague. Women and their doctors often blame the symptoms on other, more common conditions. By the time the cancer is diagnosed, the tumor has often spread beyond the ovaries.
See your doctor if you have the following symptoms on a daily basis for more than a few weeks:
Bloatingor swollen belly area
- Difficulty eating or
feeling full quickly
- Pelvic or lower abdominal pain; the area may feel “heavy” to you (pelvic heaviness)
Other symptoms are also possiblewith ovarian cancer. But these symptoms are also common in women who do not have cancer:
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Digestive symptoms:
- Increased gas
Indigestion Lack of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Back pain for unknown reasons that worsens over time
Vaginal bleedingthat occurs between periods Weight gainor loss
Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:
Excessive hair growththat is coarse and dark
- Sudden urge to urinate
- Needing to urinate more often than usual (
increased urinary frequency or urgency)
Signs and tests
A physical exam is often normal. With have advanced ovarian cancer, the doctor may find a swollen abdomen often due to collection (called
A pelvic examination may reveal an ovarian or
A CA-125 blood test is not considered a good screening test for ovarian cancer. However, it may be done if a woman:
- Has symptoms of ovarian cancer
- Has already been diagnosed with ovarian cancer to determine how well treatment is working
Other tests that may be done include:
- Complete blood count and blood chemistry
- Pregnancy test (serum HCG)
- CT or MRI of the pelvis or abdomen
Ultrasoundof the pelvis
Surgery such as a
No lab or imaging test has ever been shown to be able to screen for or diagnose ovarian cancer in its early stages.
Surgery is used to treat all stages of ovarian cancer. For early stages surgery may be the only treatment. Surgery involves:
- Removal of the uterus (total
- Removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes (bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy)
- Partial or complete removal of the omentum, the fatty layer that covers and pads organs in the abdomen
- Examination, biopsy, or removal of the lymph nodes and other tissues in the pelvis and abdomen
Surgery done by a specialist in female organ cancers has been shown to result in a higher success rate.
After surgery and chemotherapy, patients should be followed up closely:
- A physical exam (including pelvic exam) every 2 – 4 months for the first 2 years. This is followed by every 6 months for 3 years, and then each year.
CA-125blood test at each visit if the level started out high.
- The doctor may also order periodic computed tomography (
CT) scans of your chest, abdomen, and pelvic area.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a
Ovarian cancer is rarely diagnosed in its early stages. It is usually quite advanced by the time diagnosis is made
- About 3 of 4 women with ovarian cancer survive 1 year after diagnosis.
Nearly half of women live longer than 5 years after diagnosis.
If diagnosis is made early in the disease and treatment is received before the cancer spreads outside the ovary, the 5-year survival rate is very high
- Spread of the cancer to other organs
- Fluid in the abdomen (
- Blockage of the intestines
Calling your health care provider
Contact your health care provider if you are a woman over 40 years old who has not recently had a pelvic exam. Routine pelvic exams are recommended for all women over 20 years old.
Call for an appointment with your provider if you have symptoms of ovarian cancer.
There are no standard recommendations for screening for ovarian cancer. Pelvic ultrasound or blood tests, such as the CA-125 has not been found to be effective and is not recommended.
BRCA gene testing may be done in women at high risk for ovarian cancer.
Removing the ovaries and tubes in women who have a problem in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene may reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. But ovarian cancer may still develop in other areas of the pelvis.
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