Ovaries are two almond-shaped egg-producing female reproductive organs situated on each side of the uterus. When cancerous growth in the ovaries begins to proliferate, it leads to ovarian cancer. Cancer may develop in one or both ovaries. It is the most common cancer in women which is detected in later stages. Hence, becomes challenging to treat.
Types of Ovarian Cancer
Depending on the type of cell affected, ovarian cancer is the following types:
- Epithelial tumour: This is the most common type of ovarian cancer which accounts for 90% of all cases. This cancer develops in the thin layer of tissues surrounding the ovaries.
- Stromal tumour: This is the second most common type which accounts for 7% of all cases. This cancer develops in the hormone-secreting cells of the ovarian tissues.
- Germ cell tumour: This is a rare type of cancer which develops in the egg-producing cells.
Ovarian cancer is challenging to treat because it goes undetected in the early stages. Cancer usually gets detected when it spreads to other organs such as the pelvis and abdomen. At this stage, the diagnosis and treatment turn critical. If detected at early stages, the cancer is relatively easier to treat as the cancerous cells are only restricted to ovaries.
Furthermore, the diagnosis of ovarian cancer is also difficult owing to the location of the organ. Ovaries are located in the lower abdomen region which makes the diagnosis and treatment, both a daunting task. In the early stages, the patient may experience preliminary symptoms. The symptoms, however, may not be apparent and worsen over time. Hence, paying attention to even the slightest change in the body is crucial. The common symptoms to look out for are:
- Persistent pain in the abdomen.
- Persistent pain in the pelvis.
- Pain in the back.
- Frequent urination.
- Frequent bloating.
- Abrupt weight loss or weight gain.
- Changes in bowel pattern.
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea and vomiting
The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown. The possible causes, however, are:
- Family history.
- Pregnancy above the age of 35.
- Personal history of cancer.
- Genetic disorder.
- Hormone replacement therapy.
- Fertility medications.
As mentioned earlier, the diagnosis of ovarian cancer is a daunting task. It involves various tests such as:
- Physical examination: During this personal session, the doctor will examine your current medical condition, medical history and other associated risk factors. The doctor may also conduct a pelvic examination to check for signs of fluid in the abdomen or enlarged ovary.
- Blood test: A blood test will be performed to look for a biomarker CA125 in the blood. High levels of CA125 indicate ovarian cancer. Excessive levels of the biomarker along with other symptoms indicate cancer development.
- Imaging tests: Various imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI will be performed to gauge the size, location, and stage of the tumour.
- Abdominal fluid aspiration: There are high chances of ovarian cancer spreading to the abdomen. Hence, fluid from the abdomen will be retrieved and examined for the presence of cancer cells.
- Laparoscopy: The doctor will closely examine cancer by laparoscopy. In this procedure, the doctor will create a minor cut in the lower abdomen and insert a tube fitted with a camera. The camera is attached to a video monitor. The live images will help the doctor evaluate the stage of cancer.
The treatment strategy for ovarian cancer depends on the stage and type of cancer, age, and overall health of the patient. Surgery is usually the mainstay of cancer. This is combined with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy.
Cancer surgery may cause damage to the eggs and alter hormone levels. This may result in loss of fertility. Before starting the treatment, the doctor will discuss plans with you. In case you are planning a baby, the doctor will make sure to preserve your fertility before starting the treatment.
- Surgery: Surgery is performed after the confirmation of cancer. The doctor may perform different surgeries based on the patient’s condition. In some cases, if cancer has spread to the uterus. The doctor may partially or completely remove the uterus to prevent cancer from spreading.
- Chemotherapy: High doses of anti-cancer drugs will be administered to destroy cancer cells. In some cases, chemotherapy is combined with radiation therapy to remove cells from the body.
- Radiation therapy: High energy X-rays will be used to destroy cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy: Certain drugs will be administered to target specific protein particles in the cancerous cells. This therapy is considered in chances of relapse.