What is Ovarian Cancer?

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varian cancer occurs when some cells in your ovaries start to rapidly divide uncontrollably, creating growths or tumors around the ovaries and surrounding tissues. According to the American Cancer Association, ovarian cancer is the fifth most common type of cancer among women, and it is estimated that more than 20,000 women will be diagnosed with this type of cancer every year.

Ovarian cancer affects the ovaries, which are a keypart of the female reproductive system. All females have two ovaries, each about the size of an almond, which lie on either side of the uterus and are responsible for creating and releasing eggs during the menstrual cycle, as well as producing the two mean female sex hormones: estrogen and progesterone.

How is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?

Unlike other types of cancer, which are silent and asymptomatic, ovarian cancer may produce very serious signs and symptoms even at a very early stage. Some of the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer can be very similar to less serious conditions such as urinary tract infections or mild abdominal problems. These symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Indigestion and changes in appetite
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Urinary incontinence or increased urge to urinate
  • Pain around the pelvis area
  • Back pain
  • Fatigue

When ovarian cancer is found at its early stages, patients have nearly a 95% chance of living more than five years after their diagnosis. However, only 20% of ovarian cancer cases are found early.

Currently, there are no tests to specifically diagnose ovarian cancer. This type of cancer is usually found during routine checkups when a professional perform a pelvic exam to evaluate the shape, size and any abnormalities in around the uterus and ovaries.

Unfortunately, it is very hard to feel or see any to see or feel any tumors early, which is why most women are diagnosed later. In addition to a pelvic exam, doctors might order a transvaginal ultrasound or a CA-125 blood test.

What Causes Ovarian Cancer?

Scientists still aren’t exactly sure about what causes ovarian cancer. As with many other types of cancer, there are a number of risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a woman to develop this kind of cancer, however, have one or even a few of these risk factors doesn’t mean that a person is destined to develop the disease.

These are some risk factors that have been observed in women with ovarian cancer:

Age

Older women seem to be more likely than younger women to develop ovarian cancer. In fact, most women with ovarian cancer have been diagnosed after menopause, and half of all ovarian cancers are diagnosed in women 60 and older.

Hormone Replacement Therapy After Menopause

Researchers have observed that women who continue taking hormones after menopause has ended have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Additionally, women who have taken estrogen without progesterone for more than five years also have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Family History

Women with a family history of ovarian cancer (mother, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, etc.) have a higher risk of developing it than those who do not have any family history of ovarian cancer.

Being Obese or Overweight

Having a high body mass index (BMI) has been linked to several types of cancer, including ovarian cancer. However, researchers are still trying to figure out the relationship between cancer cells and obesity.

Having Children Later in Life or Never Having Children

Women who have had at least one successful pregnancy before the age of 30 seem to have a decreased risk of developing ovarian cancer, which also appears to decline with the number of children the woman has. On the other hand, women who never had children or had their first child later in life have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.

How is Ovarian Cancer Treated?

The treatment course for ovarian cancer depends on the stage the cancer is in. Cancer is categorized in stages in order to describe its size and severity. The stages are as follows:

Stage 1

Cancer is still small and contained within one area.

Stage 2 and 3

Cancer has begun to grow and spread to nearby tissues.

Stage 4

Also known as advanced or metastatic cancer, cancer has spread and is affecting other parts of the body.

Depending on which stage the ovarian cancer is found, the doctor and the patient may decide in one – or several treatments to attack cancer cells. Some common ovarian cancer treatments include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Clinical trials

Ovarian Cancer Clinical Trials

Clinical trials have contributed a lot to the current survival rates of ovarian cancer. However, researchers are still trying to find better screening methods that will allow doctors to find and diagnose ovarian cancer earlier, thus improving the patient’s life expectancy. Scientists are continuously researching new, less invasive treatment options that might potentially cure ovarian cancer.

If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, ask your doctor or contact your local hospital and/or university to find out which trials are recruiting volunteers near you.

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