Ovarian Cancer – Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

The ovaries are the female reproductive organs saddled with the responsibility of producing sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) and eggs (Ova) for fertilization. The ovaries can be found on each side of the uterus underneath the Fallopian tube.

Ovarian cancer is said to have the lowest survival rate of any female cancer, mostly because the cancer is usually diagnosed after cancer has spread as there are no tests to detect it early, and symptoms are similar to other illnesses, making treatments difficult.

Although there is no known way to prevent the occurrence of ovarian cancer completely, the risk of developing it can be reduced. This is why May 8 has been set aside as a World Ovarian Cancer Day to spread awareness

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

signs of ovarian cancer

Due to the small size and location of the ovary in the body, doctors have a hard time feeling any growth at the early stage of ovarian cancer. Also, its symptoms are mostly not noticeable in the early stages.

Signs of Ovarian cancer

  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Feeling too full quickly or difficulties eating
  • Pain in the pelvic area or cramping
  • Bloating
  • Frequent and urgent need to urinate
  • Vaginal bleeding (especially for women past menopause)
  • Abnormal discharge
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Change of menstrual cycle
  • Pain during sex
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss

As earlier stated, these symptoms can occur due to other illnesses and will often go away on their own or respond to basic treatments. To be on a safer side, if these symptoms persist after basic treatments, try to see a doctor for a diagnosis.

Causes of Ovarian Cancer

Doctors are yet to discover the exact causes of ovarian cancer though factors that increase the risk of developing it have been identified. Generally, cancer starts when there’s a mutation in the cells’ DNA.

The mutation causes the cell to grow and multiply quickly, creating a mass of abnormal cells. The healthy cells would eventually die as the abnormal cells continue living. The bad cells also invade nearby tissues causing the spread of the tumor in the body.

Types of Ovarian Cancer

The type of ovarian cancer depends on the cell it occurs in. They include:

Germ Cell Tumor: The rarest type of this cancer is the germ cell tumor. It occurs in the ovarian cells that produce eggs.

Most of these tumors are usually benign growths and not cancer. It is mostly found in teen girls or young women.

Stromal Tumor:

It occurs in the ovarian cells that produce hormones. The stromal cells are responsible for linking up the structure of the ovaries and releasing hormones. Stromal cell cancer causes the secretion of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone; excess of these results in acne, facial hair growth, and uterine bleeding, which makes it easier to diagnose.

Epithelial Tumor:

Epithelial cell carcinoma has been observed to be the highest occurring type of ovarian cancer. In its early stage, there are no symptoms.

Due to this, most people might not be aware of their condition until its too late. Researchers have rated it the fourth most common cause of death in women.

What is the Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer?

diagnosis

After asking basic questions and going through your medical history, there are different test methods a doctor might consider in detecting cancer. Some of these tests are:

Transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) 

An ultrasound wand that uses sound waves is inserted into the vagina as a means of viewing the ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tube. It can help identify a tumor but cannot tell you if the tumor is cancer or benign.

CA-125 Blood Test 

CA-125 is a protein present in our blood. Ovarian cancer causes an increase in the CA-125 level in the blood. It is a good test if used in checking if the patient is responding to treatment. Still, it is not reliable in diagnosing ovarian cancer as other conditions like uterine cancer, uterine fibroid, and menstruation can affect the levels of CA-125 in the blood.

Computed tomography (CT) scans 

This is a specialized type of Xray that allows the doctor to see cross-sectional images of the scanned body part. With abdominal CT scan images, the doctor can see the abdominal cavity. Some chemicals: barium and gastrografin aid doctors in getting better images of your stomach and bowels.

Biopsy 

This involves removing a piece of the growth and examining it in the lab. A fine needle guided by ultrasound or CT scan is inserted into the body to the tumor and taken for examination. This method is carried out if the patient cannot undergo surgery to take the piece.

Risk Factors

risk factors of ovarian cancer

Though the actual causes of ovarian cancer are unknown, several risk factors have been identified by researchers that can put women at a higher chance of getting this cancer. Some of which are:

  • History of ovarian cancer in one’s family.
  • Age: This is because it is more common in women between 50 to 60 years.
  • Genetic mutation of BRCA1 and BRCA2; genes associated with ovarian cancer.
  • Personal history of colon, breast or uterus cancer.
  • No history of pregnancy.
  • Undergoing Hormone Replacement Therapy.
  • It is risky for transgenders as having a high level of androgen increases the chances of its occurrence.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Starting your period before age 12 and entering menopause after age 52.

Treatment Methods of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer

The stage, type of ovarian cancer, age of the patient, and if they want to have children in the future are some of the things your physician will put into consideration before suggesting a suitable treatment method.

Surgery:

It involves the removal of cancer tissue in an operation. It can involve the removal of one ovary, both ovaries, both ovaries, and uterus.

Chemotherapy:

There are different ways chemotherapy can be administered. They include the use of pills, injections, or the use of tubes to send the drugs directly to affected areas. Furthermore, chemotherapy can also be used before surgery to shrink the size of the tumor. It has side effects :

Nausea, hair and nail loss, fatigue, hearing impairment, infections, bleeding problems, and some others.

Radiation:

Radiation is used mostly if cancer comes back after treatment. It can be given just like a regular X-ray where the high energy aids in killing any cancer cells.

Other methods include Targeted therapy, Clinical trials.

Due to the severity of the treatments associated with cancers, damages can be done to the reproductive organs. However, some fertility preservation options are available.

  • Embryo freezing
  • Oocyte freezing
  • Surgery to preserve fertility
  • Ovarian tissue preservation
  • Ovarian suppression.

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