Basic Information About Ovarian Cancer
Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control because they are not supposed to. Even if cancer spreads to other body parts later, it is usually called by the name of the part of the body where it started.
Ovarian cancer is a group of diseases that start in the ovaries or in the fallopian tubes and peritoneum, which are close to the ovaries. Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. They are both in the pelvis. The ovaries make female hormones and eggs, which are used to make more offspring. Women have a pair of long, thin tubes on each side of the uterus. These are the fallopian tubes. Eggs move from the ovaries to the uterus through the fallopian tubes. The tissue that lines the organs in the abdomen is called the peritoneum.
When ovarian cancer is found early, treating it is easier and more effective. Symptoms and signs of ovarian cancer are common, so paying attention to your body and knowing what’s normal for you is essential. Cancer may not cause your symptoms, but the only way to know for sure is to see your doctor, nurse, or another health care professional.
Changes in your genes, called mutations, can make you more likely to get ovarian cancer. For example, ovarian cancer risk is raised by mutations in the breast cancer susceptibility genes 1 and 2 (BRCA1 and BRCA2) and the genes linked to Lynch syndrome.
Many different kinds of tumors can be caused by ovarian cancer. However, about 70% of all cases of ovarian cancer are caused by high-grade serous carcinoma, the most common type of tumor.
What Are the Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer?
You can’t be sure if you will get ovarian cancer or not. Most women get it without putting themselves in danger. But a few things can make a woman more likely to get ovarian cancer.
- Are you middle-aged or older?
- Have close family members on either your mother’s or your father’s side who have had ovarian cancer, like your mother, sister, aunt, or grandmother.
- Have a change in their genes called BRCA1 or BRCA2 or one linked to Lynch syndrome.
- Have had cancer of the breast, uterus, or colon.
- Have a background in Eastern Europe or Ashkenazi Jews.
- Have endometriosis (a condition where tissue from the lining of the uterus grows elsewhere in the body).
- I have never given birth or have had trouble getting pregnant.
Some studies also show that women who take estrogen without progesterone for 10 years or more may have a higher risk of getting ovarian cancer.
Even if you have one or more of these things, that doesn’t mean you will get ovarian cancer. It would be best if you talked to your doctor about the risk. Also, talk to your doctor about genetic counseling if you or someone in your family has a history of ovarian cancer.
How can I Reduce my chance of getting ovarian cancer?
There is no known way to stop ovarian cancer, but these things make it less likely that you will get it:
- Taking birth control pills for at least five years.
- Having had your tubes tied (tubal ligation), both ovaries taken out, or a hysterectomy (an operation in which the uterus, and sometimes the cervix, is removed).
- Having given birth.
- Breastfeeding. Some studies show that a woman’s chance of getting ovarian cancer may be slightly lower if she breastfeeds for a year or more.
Talk to your doctor about how you can lower your chances. Even though these things may help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, not everyone should do them, and each has pros and cons. For example, birth control pills can make you more likely to get breast cancer. So you might be able to lower your cancer risk, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get it.
What Are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer may show itself in the following ways:
Bleeding from the vagina (especially if you are past menopause) or discharge from the
- vagina is different from what you are used to.
- Pain or pressure in the area around the pelvis.
- Pain in the belly or the back.
- Feeling full too fast or having trouble eating.
- Changes in how you use the bathroom, like having to go more often or more urgently, or being unable to go at all.
Pay attention to your body and know what’s normal for you. See a doctor right away if you have unusual bleeding from your uterus. See a doctor if you have any other symptoms for more than two weeks, which are not typical for you. They might not be caused by cancer, but the only way to know for sure is to see a doctor.
What Should I Know About Screening?
There is no easy and reliable way to determine if a woman has ovarian cancer if she doesn’t have any signs or symptoms.
Screening is when a test is used to find a disease before there are any signs of it. For example, screening tests for cancer work best when they can find the condition early and when treatment is most effective. When a person has symptoms, tests are done to determine what’s wrong. The goal of diagnostic tests is to figure out what is causing the symptoms or to make a diagnosis. People who are thought to have a high chance of getting cancer can also be checked with diagnostic tests.
The Pap test does not check for ovarian cancer. A Pap test prevents only cervical cancer. Since there is no easy and reliable way to check for gynecologic cancers other than cervical cancer, knowing the warning signs and what you can do to lower your risk is essential.
Here are some things you can do:
- First, pay attention to your body and know what’s normal for you.
- Talk to your doctor about any changes in your body that are out of the ordinary for you and could be signs of ovarian cancer.
Ask your doctor if you should get a diagnostic test like a rectovaginal pelvic exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, or a CA-125 blood test if you have signs or symptoms of ovarian cancer that can’t be explained. Sometimes, these tests can help find ovarian cancer or rule it out.
How Is Ovarian Cancer Treated?
If your doctor tells you that you have the ovarian, fallopian tube, or primary peritoneal cancer, ask to be sent to a gynecologic oncologist. This is a doctor who has been trained to treat cancers of a woman’s reproductive system. Gynecologic oncologists can do surgery on women with ovarian cancer and give them chemotherapy, which is a type of medicine. Your doctor can help you make a plan for how to get better.
Different kinds of care
Most of the time, surgery and chemotherapy are both used to treat ovarian cancer.
- During surgery, doctors take out cancerous tissue.
- Chemotherapy is the use of particular drugs to kill or shrink cancer cells. The drugs can come in pills, injections, or sometimes both.
Different doctors on your medical team may treat you in different ways.
- Gynecologic oncologists are doctors who have been trained to treat cancers in a woman’s reproductive system. They do operations and give chemotherapy (medicine).
- Doctors who do operations are called surgeons.
- Oncologists are doctors who use medicine to treat cancer (chemotherapy).
What is the best treatment for me?
It can be hard to figure out which treatment is best for you. Talk to your doctor about the different ways to treat your type and stage of cancer. Your doctor can tell you about each treatment’s risks, benefits, and side effects. Side effects are the ways that drugs or other therapies make your body act.
People will sometimes ask more than one cancer doctor what they think. A “second opinion” is what this is called. Getting another point might help you choose the proper treatment.