Ovarian Cancer Facts
Ovarian cancer is a disease in which malignant cells are found in one or both of the ovaries, the female reproductive organs in the uterus. Ovarian cancer can grow aggressively and is the eighth most common form of cancer among women.
There are three types of ovarian tumors, named for the tissue in which they are found: germ cell (cells that form the eggs in the ovary), stromal cell (cells that form the ovary and produce female hormones), and epithelial cell (cells that cover the surface of the ovary). Most epithelial tumors are benign (noncancerous). However, epithelial ovarian cancer accounts for 85 percent to 90 percent of ovarian cancer cases.
The cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, but there are certain risk factors that increase a woman's chance of developing the disease. Women older than age 55 are at an increased risk. Research suggests the following may also be risk factors for ovarian cancer: starting monthly periods before age 12, going through late menopause (after age 52), being obese, being infertile, taking hormone replacement therapy or certain fertility drugs, having a personal or family history of breast or colon cancer, and having a family history of ovarian cancer. First-degree relatives (such as a mother, sister, or daughter) of a woman who has had ovarian cancer are at risk for developing the disease. The risk increases if two or more first-degree relatives have had ovarian cancer.
In many cases, ovarian cancer doesn’t have any symptoms until it’s in an advanced stage. The American Cancer Society recommends that if a woman experiences symptoms almost daily, or if they last a few weeks and are new, she should seek the attention of her doctor. The symptoms of ovarian cancer may resemble other medical conditions or problems.
Diagnosis includes a medical history and physical examination, including a pelvic examination to feel the vagina, rectum, and lower abdomen for masses or growths. A Pap test may be requested as part of the pelvic examination and can indicate the presence of ovarian cancer. The doctor may also use blood tests, a biopsy, ultrasound, or computed tomography (CT or CAT scan) to diagnose ovarian cancer. Other diagnostic tests include a lower gastrointestinal (GI) series, which takes X-rays of the colon and rectum using a contrast dye called barium, and intravenous pyelogram, an X-ray of the kidneys and ureters taken after the injection of a dye.
Treatment for ovarian cancer is based on clinical staging, which involves confirming how far the cancer has or has not spread. Are nearby organs or lymph nodes involved? Ovarian cancer may be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of treatments. Another treatment for ovarian cancer is intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy. This type of chemotherapy is given directly into the abdomen through a catheter (a long, thin tube). While several clinical trials have shown a benefit for this type of chemotherapy treatment, it is not widely used.
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- National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/ovary/page8
- American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_1X_What_is_ovarian_cancer_33.asp?sitearea=
- American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org/downloads/STT/500809web.pdf