Ovarian Cancer

Updated: 20 Sep 2023, 12:59 pm IST
Medically Reviewed by

What is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer refers to any type of cancer that begins in the ovaries, which are the female reproductive organs responsible for producing eggs and the hormones estrogen and progesterone. It is one of the most common malignancies affecting women in India. As per the US National Cancer Institute, the estimated cases of ovarian cancer in 2023 have reached 19,710 with more than 13,000 deaths. Read on to know everything about ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the female reproductive organ known as the ovaries. It causes abnormal cells to develop in the ovaries which keep multiplying and form a tumor. It is sometimes referred to as a “silent killer” because it tends to go undetected in its early stages. It hardly ever shows any symptoms. However, common symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, pelvic pain, abdominal discomfort, changes in bowel habits, and frequent urination.

While it is difficult to diagnose ovarian cancer in its early stage, early detection and appropriate medical intervention are the only ways to treat the problem. Treatment of ovarian cancer typically involves surgery, chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation therapy, depending on the stage and type of cancer. Regular check-ups and awareness of potential symptoms are crucial in the early detection and management of ovarian cancer.

Causes of Ovarian Cancer

Studies have shown that the exact cause of ovarian cancer is not yet known, but there are several risk factors that could lead to the possibility of this type of cancer. Also, it is not necessary that the causes mentioned here are the reasons why someone develops ovarian cancer, as many women with ovarian cancer have no known risk factors. Having said that, here are some of the most common causes of ovarian cancer:

  • Women over the age of 50 or higher are at a greater risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Having a family history of ovarian, breast and other cancers may increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Women who have never conceived or had children late in life.
  • Undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
  • Women who began menstruating at a very young age or later age.
  • If you have endometriosis, which is a condition where the uterine grows outside the uterus.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Smoking may also increase the risk.
  • Using talcum powder has also been linked to an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Key Facts of Ovarian Cancer

Major Symptoms
  • Persistent or unexplained abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Finding it difficult to eat
  • Changes in your bowel movements
  • Urinating frequently
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Back pain
  • Changes in the menstrual cycle
Necessary Health Tests
  • TVUS (transvaginal ultrasound)
  • CA-125 blood test
  • Biopsy
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Palliative care

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Symptoms of ovarian cancer can easily mimic other less serious conditions. However, it is crucial to be aware of the potential symptoms, as early detection can significantly improve its prognosis. Also, symptoms may vary from one woman to another. Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Persistent or unexplained abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Finding it difficult to eat
  • Changes in your bowel movements
  • Urinating frequently
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Back pain
  • Changes in the menstrual cycle

Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer

For proper diagnosis, the doctor will review your medical history, and do a physical examination, imaging tests, and a tissue biopsy. Here’s an overview of the diagnosis of ovarian cancer:

  • Medical History and physical examination: Your healthcare provider will begin by taking a detailed medical history, including any symptoms you may be experiencing. They will also perform a physical examination, which may include a pelvic exam to check for any abnormalities.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests, such as the CA-125 blood test, may be conducted.
  • Imaging tests: Various imaging tests may be ordered to visualise the ovaries and surrounding structures and determine the extent of the disease. Common imaging tests include transvaginal ultrasound, pelvic and abdominal CT Scan, MRI scans, and PET scans.
  • Biopsy: A definitive diagnosis of ovarian cancer usually requires a biopsy to confirm the presence of cancerous cells. It majorly involves the microscopic examination of a tissue sample.

After the proper diagnosis, your doctor may ask you get more tests, such as staging and additional imaging, to determine the extent of cancer. This will help your doctor to understand the kind of treatment suited for the condition.

Treatment of Ovarian Cancer

Treatment of ovarian cancer depends on various factors, including the stage of cancer. Here’s an overview of the main treatment options:

  • Surgery: It is usually the first step in treating ovarian cancer. The extent of surgery depends on the stage and type of cancer.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is often recommended to destroy any remaining cancer cells after surgery. Chemotherapy drugs are administered orally or intravenously and circulate throughout the body to target cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy: In some cases, targeted therapy drugs may be used alongside chemotherapy. These drugs are designed to target specific molecules or pathways involved in cancer growth.
  • Palliative care: Palliative care focuses on relieving symptoms and improving the quality of life for patients with advanced ovarian cancer. It is not aimed at curing the disease but can provide important support for managing symptoms and side effects.

Ovarian cancer treatment may vary from one person to another, depending on the specifics of each case. It is crucial for patients to talk to their doctors to get proper treatment for ovarian cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Related FAQs

What are the early symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Bloating, diarrhoea, and stomach pain are some of the initial symptoms of ovarian cancer you should look out for.

Does ovarian cancer get cured?

Many women fully recover from ovarian cancer by getting proper surgery and/or chemotherapy.

Is ovarian cancer painful?

Pain from ovarian cancer can be excruciating and it can cause discomfort at a later stage. However, there are pain management strategies that can help to mitigate the pain.

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