Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the growth of cancer cells in the ovaries. The ovaries make eggs for reproduction and female hormones. The most common type of ovarian cancer is epithelial. Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably, a mass of tissue forms. This is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors. They can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. Germ cell tumors come from the reproductive tissue. They account for 20% of tumors. Stromal cancers are more rare. These come from the connective cells of the ovary. They typically make hormones that cause symptoms.

  • Causes

    The causes of ovarian cancer are not known. However, research shows that certain risk factors are associated with the disease.

  • Definition

    Ovarian cancer is the growth of cancer cells in the ovaries. The ovaries make eggs for reproduction and female hormones. The most common type of ovarian cancer is epithelial.

    Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably, a mass of tissue forms. This is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors. They can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

    Germ cell tumors come from the reproductive tissue. They account for 20% of tumors. Stromal cancers are more rare. These come from the connective cells of the ovary. They typically make hormones that cause symptoms.

    Cancerous Mass in the Left Ovary
    Ovarian Cancer
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis

    You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam and pelvic exam will be done.

    Your bodily fluids and tissue may be tested. This can be done with:

    • Blood tests
    • Biopsy

    Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

    • Ultrasound
    • CT scan
    • MRI scan
    • Lower gastrointestinal series
      or
      barium enema

  • Prevention

    If you think you are at risk for ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor. Schedule check-ups with your doctor if needed. All women should have regular physical exams. These should include vaginal exams and palpation of the ovaries.


    Genetic testing may help identify patients who should consider having surgery to remove both ovaries and the fallopian tubes. In some cases, it may prevent ovarian cancer in high-risk women.

    Eating a low-fat diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables may also reduce your risk of ovarian cancer. It is also important to maintain a healthy weight.

  • Risk Factors

    Ovarian cancer is most common in women age 50 or older. Factors that may increase your chance of getting ovarian cancer include:

    • Family history of ovarian cancer, especially in mother, sister, or daughter

    • Menstrual history—first period before age 12, no childbirth or first childbirth after age 30, and late
      menopause

    • Personal history of
      breast cancer
      or
      endometrial cancer
    • Certain gene mutations, including BRCA1, BRCA2
    • Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy
    • Polycystic ovary syndrome or obesity
    • Endometriosis

    Use of birth control pills for more than five years appears to decrease the risk of getting ovarian cancer.

  • Symptoms

    Many ovarian tumors grow to be very large without showing symptoms. Symptoms often only appear in the later stages. These tumors can also be hard to find during a physical exam. As a result, about 70% of patients are found with advanced disease.

    Symptoms include:

    • Abdominal discomfort and/or pain

    • Gas,
      indigestion
      , pressure, swelling, bloating, or cramps


    • Nausea,
      diarrhea
      ,
      constipation
      , or frequent urination
    • Loss of appetite
    • Feeling of fullness even after only a light meal
    • Unexplained weight gain or loss
    • Abnormal bleeding from the vagina

    • Hair growth, voice deepening,
      acne
      , loss of menstrual periods in some rare stromal tumors

  • Treatment

    Treatment
    depends on the extent of the cancer and your general health.

    Treatments include: