What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is an abnormal cell in the ovary which begins to grow out of control forming a tumor. It can lead to metastatic ovarian cancer which makes the tumor spreads to all other parts of the body when not treated immediately. Ovarian cancer affects the female reproductive system which has two ovaries that looks like the shape of an almond.
The ovaries produce an egg and also estrogen and progesterone which are the main female hormones. Ovarian cancer is not easily known in the earlier stage because the signs and symptoms are mostly not cleared until they spread to both the pelvis and abdomen region. When its sign and symptoms are easily detected in the earlier stage, ovarian cancer could be treated easily. A study by cancer.org shows that only twenty percent of ovarian cancers are easily detected in their early stage.
Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer early signs and symptoms are mostly overlooked because they resemble that of common illnesses which tend to surface or disappear with time. Here are the early signs and symptoms:
- Abdominal swelling, bloating and pains
- Loss of weight
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Rapidly feeling full when eating
- Finding it difficult to eat
Others signs and symptoms include:
- A backache
- Bowel habits changes as in constipation
- Feeling discomfort around the pelvic region
- Having severe heartburn feelings
- Experiencing painful intercourse during sex
- Irregularities in menstrual periods
- Difficulty in digesting food
- A weakness of the muscles and skin rash
Most of these symptoms not necessarily mean one has ovarian cancer but could arise from the reaction of drugs taken to curb common illness. Most women experienced this and a simple treatment could be done to alleviate these types of signs and symptoms. You will definitely know if these symptoms are associated with ovarian cancer if it persists for long and you immediately consult your medical doctor for advice and treatment.
The symptoms tend to be more severe with an increase in the growing tumor. Also, this will make cancer spread outside the ovaries to the pelvis region and also the abdomen. This makes treatment becomes more difficult. Finally, one can enjoy the successful treatment of ovarian cancer when quickly detected in its early stage.
Although, they are no clear causes for ovarian cancer; doctors have discovered some factors that can increase it.
In most cases, this cancer starts with the cells developing in a tricky way in its DNA. The sudden change in the gene makes the cells grow and duplicate rapidly, forming a tumor of abnormal cells in the body. Also, when cells which are healthy die; the abnormal cells keep living.
Types of Ovarian Cancer
This originates from the three types of cells that make up the ovaries. In this cells where cancer starts developing gives rise to the various ovarian cancer contracted. It includes the following:
- Epithelial Tumors
This tumor arises from the thin layer of tissue on the outside of the ovaries. An epithelial tumor constitutes about ninety percent of ovarian cancers in the body.
- Stromal Tumors
They start in the ovarian tissue which has a hormone-producing cell. Stromal tumors make up about seven percent of ovarian cancers in the body.
- Germ Cell Tumors
Germ cell tumors start in the egg-producing cells. This type of ovarian cancer is rare but is common among young women.
Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer
These factors can increase the risk of contracting ovarian cancer:
- Inheritable gene mutations: This genetic mutation of genes inherited from your parents with ovarian cancer includes Breast Cancer Genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2). Also, Lynch syndrome which is one of the gene mutations tends to increase the risk of cancer.
- The age at which one begins and stopped menstruating: Usually, when a girl starts menstruating at a very tender age and when a lady begins menopause at a later age both stands a higher risk of contracting ovarian cancer.
- A family history of ovarian cancer: In a family with two or more cases of ovarian cancer makes a person stand a higher risk of contracting cancer.
- Hormone replacement therapies: Continuous use of certain fertility drugs over a long period of time leads to a higher risk of contracting the disease.
- Pregnancy: Women who have never been pregnant stand a higher risk of having this cancer.
- Breastfeeding: In a case where a lady has never breastfed.
- Obesity: People who have excessive storage and accumulation of fat in the body are at a higher risk of having ovarian cancer.
- Endometriosis: The growth and presence of the functioning endometrial tissue in places other than the womb which often results in severe pain and infertility.
- Personal history of breast, colon and uterine cancer: an Individual history of breast, colon and uterine cancer is also one of the risk factors for ovarian cancer.
The risk factors of ovarian cancer are not limited to those stated above; consequently, an individual diagnosed of having ovarian cancer might not experience any of them. Also, experiencing these risk factors does not actually mean you will have ovarian cancer, so be guided.
Prevention of Ovarian Cancer
Prevention of ovarian cancer has no proven way to completely remove the chance of having the disease. Although, there are methods to help reduce your risk:
- Confide your risk factors with your doctor for proper medical advice.
- Care should be taken in any surgical procedures on hysterectomy.
- Consult your doctor before taking any birth control pills.
- Proper medical checkup should be employed during pregnancy and breastfeeding to cure cancer.
Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis
Although, it is not easy to detect ovarian cancer in its early stage; it is best treated and diagnosed in its newly growing stage.
This cancer has no scheduled diagnostic screening available in most hospitals. This is why you should immediately report any strange symptoms or feelings to your doctor. Your doctor will then recommend you to carry out Pelvic Inflammation Disease (PID) scan to check for irregularities of ovarian cancer.
Also, a rectovaginal pelvic screening is done to ascertain whether the growing tumor presses against the rectum and bladder.
The following tests could also be carried out by your doctor for effective ovarian cancer diagnosis:
- Running of a blood test to know the level of cancer antigen 125 (CA-125).
- Transvaginal Ultrasound (TVUS) to identify tumors in the ovary. The disadvantage of this test is that doctors are unable to know if the tumors are cancerous.
- Use of biopsy is the most effective way to detect if you have ovarian cancer.
- Perform pelvic and abdominal CT scan. A pelvic MRI scan could be suitable for dye allergic patients.
Stages of Ovarian Cancer
Based on how far the tumors have spread help determine the various stages of the disease.
Ovarian cancer has four (4) stages with each having sub-stages. They include:
In stage 1, three sub-stages are known namely:
Stage 1A: Here the cancer is restricted to only one ovary.
Stage 1B: The cancer is found in both ovaries.
Stage 1C: Here cancer cells are also found on the outside of the ovary.
Stage 2 has two sub-stages and cancer has also spread to other pelvic structures. They include:
Stage 2A: The tumor has spread to the womb or fallopian tubes.
Stage 2B: Cancer has spread to the rectum or bladder.
In stage 3, the following three sub-stages are noted:
Stage 3A: Here, cancer has spread beyond the pelvis to both the abdominal lining and lymph nodes.
Stage 3B: These tumor cells are found outside the liver or spleen.
Stage 3C: The cancer is not found inside the liver or spleen. An at least ¾ inch of cancer deposits is outside the liver or spleen and on the abdomen.
Also in stage 4, cancer has spread beyond the abdomen, pelvis, and lymph nodes to the lungs or liver. It is divided into two sub-stages namely:
Stage 4A: The tumors cells are found in fluid forms around the lungs.
Stage 4B: The cancerous cells have reached inside of the liver or spleen or organs of the brain or skin. This stage is known to be the most advanced stage of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian Cancer Treatment
Its treatment lies in how far the tumor has spread. This usually involves a team of doctors to determine an effective treatment for your condition. The optimum treatment does involve two or more of the following methods:
- Targeted Therapy
- Fertility Preservation
Most treatment of ovarian cancers is done through surgery. Here doctors do advice patients on total removal of the uterus and fallopian tubes nearby lymph nodes and other pelvic tissues.
Although locating all tumors is difficult, several studies have shown us a more developed surgical process to remove the tumors cells more easily.
Here, the radiation and chemotherapy treatments attack the cancerous cells while performing little or no harm to the normal cells of the body.
Olaparib (Lynparza) and Bevacizumab (Avastin) are the two major targeted therapies used to treat an advanced epithelial ovarian cancer. Olaparib is mostly used by doctors to treat patients having mutations in the Breast Cancer Genes (BRCA).
Most cancer treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation can destroy your reproductive organs, making you unable to become pregnant.
Talk to your doctor first before commencing any treatment, if you would like to be pregnant in the future. Fertility preservation methods include the following:
- Surgery to Preserve Fertility: This is usually done in the early phase of ovarian cancer. Here, surgery is performed to keep the healthy ovary and removes the remaining one ovary.
- Freezing of the Embryo: The fertilized egg is a freeze.
- Freezing of the Oocyte: Here, an unfertilized egg is a freeze.
- Ovarian Suppression: It involves the use of hormones to temporarily suppress ovarian function in the body.
- Preservation of Ovarian Tissue: This is simply the removal and freezing of the ovarian tissue for use in the future.
Research Studies Involving Ovarian Cancer
Each year, researchers keep exploring new methods to help treat platinum-resistant ovarian cancer. Also, when platinum resistance surfaces, chemotherapy drugs like cisplatin and carboplatin can no longer function effectively well.
Researchers tend to study certain drugs to proffer new treatment of ovarian cancer.
A study in 2014 examined treatment mainly for those with more advanced stages of this cancer.
The treatment of ovarian cancer basically deals with surgery to help remove the womb and ovaries, and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, this leads to some ladies experiencing menopause symptoms.
A research in 2015 worked on Intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy. Here, people who were treated with Intraperitoneal chemotherapy had a median survival rate of 61.8 months as against the improvement of 51.4 months for standard chemotherapy patients.
Also, a study in 2016 shows how Hormone Therapy (HT) affects the life of an individual after treatment from ovarian cancer.
This study discovered that Hormone Therapy was the best for menopause treatments in ladies with ovarian cancer and they enjoyed their life to the fullest after the treatment.
Survival Rate of Ovarian Cancer after Hysterectomy
This studies the percentage of ladies who survive a certain number of years at a particular stage of diagnosis.
Also, the five (5) year survival rate is the percentage of women who received a diagnosis at a given phase and live at least five (5) years after being diagnosed with cancer.
The relative survival rate also takes into consideration the anticipated death rate for people without the disease. The American Cancer Society estimates the relative survival rate for epithelial ovarian cancer which is the most common as:
Stage 1: 71 percent
1A: 93 percent
1B: 91 percent
1C: 84 percent
Stage 2: 61 percent
2A: 82 percent
2B: 72 percent
Stage 3: 28 percent
3A: 63 percent
3B: 53 percent
3C: 41 percent
Stage 4: 19 percent
Stages 1A or 1B has a higher survival rate of more than 90 percent and was treated right away since the cancer was detected early. It is so unfortunate that doctors only diagnose 20 percent of ovarian cancers in its earliest stages.
The good news is that scientists are recently researching more on developed and reliable methods to detect the early stage of this cancer.
Differences between Ovarian Cysts and Ovarian Cancer
An ovarian cyst is a closed, sac-like structure inside the ovary usually filled with either a semi-solid or liquid substance. Also, a typical ovarian cyst does not result in cancer or shows an increased risk of the disease. Generally, ovarian cysts can be treated with transvaginal ultrasound except for complex ovarian cysts which could be treated using a 3D transvaginal ultrasound.
Ovarian cancer is defined as a tumor that develops in the ovaries or nearby tissues in ladies. It is also known that 90 percent of ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors.
Also, ovarian cancer is more common among postmenopausal women. An ovarian cyst is more common in premenopausal women.
Ovarian cysts are caused by benign tumors, menstrual cycle, and endometriosis. Ovarian cancer causes are confusing, but certain gene mutations and a family history of the disease are the two major risk factors of cancer.
Symptoms from ovarian cancer and ovarian cyst do not show immediately until cancer has advanced. These symptoms may range from abdominal bloating, lower abdominal ache, and pains during sexual intercourse. It is not very easy to differentiate ovarian cancer from ovarian cyst using the above symptoms but a 3D transvaginal ultrasound would clearly show their differences.
Photo Credit: joshya-Fotolia
In this great article, we have looked at; the definition of ovarian cancer, its types, causes, symptoms, risk factors, prevention, diagnosis, stages, treatment, research, and survival rate. Also, we have related the differences between ovarian cysts and ovarian cancers. Ovarian cancer is less common in younger women not above 40years of age while older women between ages 55-65 are most likely to have this disease.
Finally, note that your outlook depends on several factors like the stage of cancer diagnosis, how effective you respond to the treatment and your whole health. Do visit your doctor if you notice unusual symptoms or feelings in your body.