Ovarian Cancer: What Women Need to Know
Get the facts about ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer is really three different types of tumors that start in women’s ovaries. Most ovarian tumors do not spread throughout the body, but some do. The different types of tumors are:
- Epithelial tumors – These tumors begin in the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovary. This is the most common kind of ovarian tumor.
- Germ cell tumors – These tumors start from the cells that produce eggs.
- Stromal tumors – The ovarian cells that produce female hormones start these tumors.
Ovarian cancer: What are the risks?
The good news is that doctors know some things that can lower a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer. These include full-term pregnancy before age 26, taking birth control pills and certain types of surgery (hysterectomy and tubal ligation).
Unlike some other cancers, the things that increase risk of ovarian cancer aren’t very clear. Even the risk factors that are known don’t apply to every type of ovarian cancer. Doctors believe the following list shows some of the risks for epithelial tumors, but not to the less common types of ovarian tumors:
- First full-term pregnancy after age 35
- Some fertility drugs
- Hormone therapy after menopause
- Family history of some cancers
Some ovarian cancers can be found early
You may have heard that a Pap test is a way to check for some cancers in women. Unfortunately, that test does not usually find ovarian cancer. Other tests for ovarian cancer have different limitations. Despite that, about 20% of ovarian cancers are discovered at an early stage. Here are a few ways ovarian cancer can be found:
- Regular physical exams
- Transvaginal ultrasound
- CA-125 blood test to find tumor markers
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
Women with ovarian cancer don’t always have symptoms. Also, the symptoms can be similar to other conditions. Most of the time, the symptoms are a change from the way the woman normally feels. If a woman has the following symptoms more than 12 times in a month, she should visit her doctor.
- Pain in the pelvis or belly area
- Trouble eating, or feeling full faster than normal
- Needing to urinate more often than normal
Stages of ovarian cancer
Cancer experts have divided ovarian cancer into four main stages. These are:
- Stage 1 – The cancer stays inside the ovary (or ovaries) or the fallopian tubes. It has not spread to nearby organs or tissues.
- Stage 2 – One or both ovaries or fallopian tubes have cancer. It has now spread to other organs in the pelvic area but not anywhere else.
- Stage 3 – One or both ovaries or fallopian tubes have cancer. In addition, it has spread to the lining of the abdomen and/or to lymph nodes in the back of the abdomen.
- Stage 4 – At this advanced stage, the cancer has spread to other, more distant places in the body.
The main treatments for ovarian cancer
Doctors often recommend using more than one treatment at a time for ovarian cancer, including:
- Removal of the cancerous cells with surgery
- Weakening the cancer with anticancer drugs (this is called “chemotherapy”)
- Use of hormones or drugs that block production of hormones
- Using drugs that target the cancer cells directly
- Bombarding the cancer with high-energy rays
Coping and support
Ovarian cancer can be hard to treat and the treatment itself can mean you won’t be at your best. You may need to find ways to cope, and here are some things you can do:
- Rely on your family and friends – Everyone needs help dealing with this type of cancer. Family and friends can help you get through the tough times, so don’t be afraid to ask.
- Talk with your doctor – Your doctor can tell you about support groups in your area, explain your treatments and keep your spirits up.
- Connect with outside groups – Get in touch with cancer organizations such as the American Cancer Society. These groups can help in many ways.
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At Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA), we feature the best of modern oncologic medicine. We meet the highest standard of cancer care in both quality and safety. At the same time, we lead with our hearts, offering an environment characterized by compassion. We focus on you, individually, and work with you and your family to ensure your care is second to none.