Cancer Care

Ovarian Cancer

It’s easy for women not to notice the early symptoms of ovarian cancer. But the sooner ovarian cancer is found, the easier it is to treat. That’s why it is important to know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer starts with cells in the ovaries. Ovaries are female reproductive glands. There are more than 30 types of ovarian cancer. The different types are determined by the type of cell in which they start. There are four stages of ovarian cancer:

  • Stage 1: The cancer has not spread past the ovaries
  • Stage 2: The cancer has grown and extends to one or both ovaries and the pelvis
  • Stage 3: The cancer has grown and extends to one or both ovaries and has spread to the lining of the abdomen or lymph nodes in the abdomen
  • Stage 4: This is the most advanced stage; the cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes or organs in the body.    

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Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

  • Aging: About half of ovarian cancers are reported in women over 60.

  • Use of fertility drugs

  • Family history of ovarian, breast or colorectal cancer

  • Endometriosis

  • Personal history of breast cancer

  • Women who have never had children, or have not taken birth control pills

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms May Be Overlooked

The symptoms of ovarian cancer usually go unnoticed by most women. If these symptoms last more than three weeks and are not being caused by another reason or health condition, it is important to go to a doctor. Early intervention is important for effective ovarian cancer treatment.

  • Loss of appetite

  • Bloating

  • Flatulence (gas)

  • Pain in the abdomen, lower back, pelvis or legs

  • Painful intercourse

  • Change in urinary frequency

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Vaginal bleeding

  • Weight loss or gain

  • Shortness of breath

  • Lump in the pelvic area

Scans Can Show Signs of Ovarian Cancer

Your doctor will discuss your personal and family medical history with you, and then do a physical exam. Your doctor will look for signs of ovarian cancer, which can include fluid in the abdomen or an enlarged ovary. Screening tests can include:

  • Lower GI series

  • Transvaginal ultrasound

  • CT scan

  • PET scan

  • MRI

  • Biopsy

  • Blood tests

If the test results indicate that you might have ovarian cancer, you will be referred to a gynecologic oncologist. This type of specialty doctor is trained in treating cancers that affect the female reproductive system.

Combination of Cancer Treatments May Be Best Option

Your gynecologic oncologist and the rest of the cancer care team will help to decide which treatment options will be the most effective. There are several different treatment options. Most of the time, a combination of two or more treatments are done.

Treatment options include:

  • Surgery

  • Hormone therapy

  • Targeted therapy

  • Radiation therapy

  • Chemotherapy

Risk-reducing factors

There are certain factors that can lower your risk of developing ovarian cancer.

  • Breastfeeding
  • Exercise
  • Using birth control pills
  • Tubal ligation (having tubes tied)
  • Eating a low-fat diet that contains vegetables, fruit and healthy grains
  • Giving birth to a baby before age 26