The ovaries are a part of the female reproductive system and whose job it is to produce the female hormone estrogen and release the eggs that will drop from the ovary and travel through the fallopian tube to the uterus.
Ovarian cancer will begin in the cells that make up ovarian tissue. There is a change in the way that the cells divide and grow in the ovaries and this can lead to a tissue mass developing in the ovaries. This mass of tissue is known as a tumor and it can be considered benign or malignant. A benign tumor is not harmful, but a malignant tumor can cause a great deal of damage to a woman.
Malignant tumors in the ovaries are commonly referred to as ovarian cancer. In some cases, the tumor can be removed with surgery but the doctor will most likely develop a plan for treatment that may include different treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Even if the tumor is removed through surgery, there is still a requirement for additional treatment. The cancer cells from the tumor can shed and hence possibly spread throughout the body. That is why chemotherapy and radiation are still necessary after any surgery.
There are risk factors for ovarian cancer that may increase a woman’s odds of having the disease during her lifetime. A family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer increases the chance of developing ovarian cancer in an individual. A woman who has had cancer in the past, either of the breast, colon or uterus has an increased chance of ovarian cancer as well. Women who are over fifty five years old are at an increased risk of this type of cancer and women who have never been pregnant are also at risk. It is important to note that just because you have a risk factor for developing ovarian cancer doesn’t necessarily mean that you will develop it.
There are some symptoms of ovarian cancer that can be detected in the early stages, but very often these symptoms are not so obvious and often go unnoticed. In the early stages of ovarian cancer a woman may feel bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, indigestion, constipation, gas, or diarrhea and she may also feel tired frequently. Some other less common symptoms include unusual vaginal bleeding, bleeding after menopause, frequent urination, and shortness of breath. These symptoms are not a clear indication that there is ovarian cancer, but the doctor should be informed so that testing can be done.
There are several steps that the doctor will take to diagnose ovarian cancer. A physical exam will be the first step along with blood tests and an ultrasound. The doctor may also want to perform a biopsy to test the fluid or tissue for cancer cells. This will give the doctor the information that is needed to make a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Keep in mind that a biopsy is a surgery and will involve removing some of the tissue and fluid to test for the presence of cancer.
The treatment that your doctor will plan will depend on the stage of your ovarian cancer. Most women will have surgery and chemotherapy for this type of cancer and radiation is only rarely used. Chemotherapy can be administered either directly into the pelvis with intraperitoneal chemotherapy or systemic chemotherapy which is administered by mouth or through the vein. The goal of both types of chemotherapy is to destroy the cancer cells.
The diagnosis of ovarian cancer can be frightening for most women but they should make sure they obtain a second opinion from another doctor before they begin any treatment plan.