Any cancerous growth that emanates from the ovary is known as ovarian cancer. It can affect one or both of the ovaries. It is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths among women in and the eighth most common cancer in Australia. There were about 1350 new cases of ovarian cancer in 2014 alone and about 900 ovarian cancer related deaths in Australia in 2015.
There are about 30 different types of ovarian cancer named after the cell in which they emanate from. But they occur in three main groups.
- Epithelial tumors
Epithelial tumors are the most dangerous and most common types of ovarian cancer. They are tumors that grow in the cells that line the surface of the ovaries.
- Germ cell tumors
This type of ovarian cancer tumors originate in cells that produce the eggs for reproduction. These tumors are often benign and curable most times should they become cancerous.
- Primary peritoneal carcinoma
This type of cancer is not affected by the removal of the ovaries and is similar to epithelial ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer often comes with no obvious signs or symptoms in the early stages. Although it is possible to experience some of the following symptoms
- Abdominal bloating
- Feeling full quickly or having difficulty eating
- Urgent or frequent urination
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Pain during sexual intercourse
These symptoms might be confusing because they could also be symptoms for other conditions like a temporary bladder problem or a premenstrual syndrome. But these signs are persistent and seem to worsen gradually for ovarian cancer.
Unfortunately there is currently no effective screening tool for ovarian cancer. While blood tests and ultrasounds can provide helpful information, they are not good enough to predict or exclude the presence of ovarian cancer at this stage.
Ovarian cancer can be diagnosed with the use different types of scans or tests. Although these scans help to look for tumors, cysts or other changes, a biopsy is the only way to confirm a cancer diagnosis.
- Blood tests
- PET scan
- Physical and vaginal examination
- Imaging scans
The division and multiplication of cells in an irregular or unregulated way is the main cause of ovarian cancer. While the main reason why this happens isn’t clear, the risk factors for having ovarian cancer includes
- Family history
- First child after 30
- Hormone replacement therapy or fertility treatments
- Late menopause or early onset of periods
- Age (women above 50 have a higher risk of having ovarian cancer
Treatments for ovarian cancer is dependent on the extent of the cancer. While surgery is usually used to determine the extent of the disease, it is also the main treatment if it is found to be localized. An attempt is made to remove as much as possible, if the cancer has spread. The extent and type of surgery is dependent on the stage of the cancer.
Chemotherapy is one route to the treatment of ovarian cancer. It can be instilled into the abdominal cavity or injected into the bloodstream through the vein. Sometimes both is done. If the disease has spread so much, chemotherapy might be used first and then surgery would be used to assess the response to treatment. Chemotherapy can usually cure Germ cell tumors.
- Targeted therapy
Targeted therapy uses prescription drugs and other treatments to help identify and attract specific cancer cells without having to harm the normal cells.
- Palliative care
The idea behind palliative care is to improve your quality of life by ensuring that symptoms of cancer are alleviated. It also slows the spread of ovarian cancer.
This article is written to be informative and does not substitute seeking a professional consultation from a medical professional.
You can make an appointment with Dr Kenny on 07 3188 5000.