Causes & Risk Factors

Here’s What You Need to Know about Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is a form of cancer that originates in the ovaries, a part of the female reproductive system. It is the tenth most common type of cancer detected among women. Read on to know more about ovarian cancer symptoms, causes, risk factors, types, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer
In the early stage of ovarian cancer, the symptoms might be non-existent. As the condition progresses, it might project symptoms that may often be misconstrued for benign health conditions. The signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer could involve the following

  • Bloating or swelling in the abdomen
  • Back pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea and tiredness
  • Pain while having intercourse
  • Discomfort or pain in the pelvic region
  • Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full even after eating little food
  • Constipation

Causes of ovarian cancer
Researchers haven’t been able to narrow down the exact cause of ovarian cancer as yet; however, there are multiple factors that could contribute to the development of this condition. Following are some factors that could amplify the risk of ovarian cancer in women:

  • Age – Although ovarian cancer can affect a woman of any age, it is mostly observed among women aged between 50 and 60 years.
  • Family history – Individuals who have two or more close relatives who have had dealt with ovarian cancer have higher chances of developing this condition.
  • Hormone replacement therapy – A prolonged use of estrogen hormone replacement therapy in high doses can lead to ovarian cancer.
  • Early or late menstruation – The commencement of menstruation at an early or later age can both magnify the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Inherited gene mutations – A tiny percentage of ovarian cancer is caused due to gene mutations received from parents. Breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2) are known to boost the risk of ovarian cancer as well. Likewise, the gene mutations related to Lynch syndrome can also cause ovarian cancer.

Types of ovarian cancer
The types of ovarian cancer are determined according to where the tumor has originated in the ovaries. Here are the three types of ovarian cancer:

  • Epithelial tumors – This type of cancer starts within the thin tissue that covers the external part of the ovaries. Epithelial tumors form approximately 90% of the ovarian cancers.
  • Stromal tumors – These types of tumors arise in ovarian tissues that comprise the cells that produce hormones. As compared to other types of ovarian cancers, these tumors are usually diagnosed during the initial stages. It is estimated that stromal tumors make up around 7% of the total ovarian cancer cases.
  • Germ-cell tumors – These types of tumors begin in the cells that produce eggs. Germ-cell tumors are pretty rare and usually tend to affect younger women.

Diagnosis of ovarian cancer
Depending on the symptoms, doctors can suggest one or multiple diagnostic tests. A pelvic exam is commonly recommended where the doctor examines the vagina for any abnormal growths. Imaging tests such as abdominal and pelvic ultrasound or CT scan are used to gauge the size and structure of the ovaries. Likewise, a blood test for measuring the levels of CA (cancer antigen) 125 can be suggested. However, this blood test can’t definitively claim that one is suffering from cancer. In extreme cases, if there is no conclusive diagnosis drawn, the doctor may suggest surgery to remove the tumor or a part of it for biopsy.

Treatment of ovarian cancer
Once the condition is diagnosed, the doctor will suggest a combination of procedures for its treatment. These include the following:

  • Surgery – Depending on how far the cancer has spread, the doctor will recommend surgery to remove either one ovary, both the ovaries, or both ovaries and uterus.
  • Chemotherapy – This is a powerful type of drug that is used for killing cancer cells. It can be used before or after the surgery, based on the diagnosis. Drugs used for chemotherapy can be taken orally, injected in the veins, or can be directly injected into the affected part.
  • Targeted therapy – In this kind of therapy, drugs are used to target certain vulnerabilities of the cancer cells. It is ordinarily used in cases, where the cancer is resistant to other types of drugs or relapses after treatment.
  • Palliative care – This is a specialized form of health treatment that focuses on alleviating the painful symptoms of cancer. The palliative care specialists not only work with the patient but also with family members and doctors to make it easier to cope with aggressive procedures such as chemotherapy and surgery.

Prevention
As of now, there is no foolproof way of entirely preventing ovarian cancer. There are a few measures one can take to lower its risks such as using birth control pills, considering pregnancy, breastfeeding, and surgical procedures such as tubal litigation or hysterectomy. However, it is essential that one scrutinizes the consequences of adopting any such methods. Therefore, it always makes sense to be prudent by seeking the counsel of a qualified gynecologist.

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