Ovarian cancer is a great concern for many women. The risk of a woman developing ovarian cancer during her lifetime is one in sixty-seven, and the risk of developing and dying from it is one in ninety-five. With rates like this, it isn’t incredibly common, and doesn’t seem like it should cause much alarm in most women. However, some women due to heredity and other factors may be at greater risk of developing ovarian cancer at some point in their lifetime. We will start by explaining what ovarian cancer is, then move on to causes, symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis,treatment, and other information.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a growth of malignant cells that starts in a woman’s ovaries, or the reproductive glands that produce ova. While ovarian cancer takes place in the ovaries, cancer that begins elsewhere in a female’s body and ends up in the ovaries is not considered the same thing.
Ovarian tumors in general can be either benign or malignant. Benign tumors are noncancerous and do not spread to other parts of the body, or metastasize. Malignant tumors are cancerous and do metastasize through two ways. In the first way, it is done directly to other organs in the pelvis and abdomen, which is the most common. The second way is through the bloodstream or lymph nodes to other parts of the body.
The causes of ovarian cancer are mostly multi-factorial. One theory points to genetic errors that may occur through repeated wear and tear caused by the release of an egg monthly. Another theory states that the increase of hormone levels before and during ovulation may stimulate the growth of abnormal cells. One of the newest theories is that malignant cells that initially started from the end of the fallopian tube may spread to the ovary.
Ovarian cancer often begins without warning. Ovarian cancer may not even show symptoms until later stages. Here are some symptoms you may experience:
Pain in the Belly or Pelvis
Difficulty Eating, or Becoming Full Quickly
Urinary Problems such as Frequent Urination or Sudden Urge to Urinate
These symptoms are considered especially as evidence of ovarian cancer when they have occurred almost daily for two or three weeks. The difference in these common symptoms for some women and symptoms of ovarian cancer in others is determined by their behavior. Typically, if they start suddenly, feel different than your normal digestive or menstrual issues, and happen almost every day without subsiding, this is evidence of ovarian cancer.
Other symptoms may include:
Loss of Appetite
Pain during Intercourse
Menstrual Cycle Changes
These symptoms, as mentioned, may be common in women without ovarian cancer, but only your doctor can make the correct determination as to what the cause of your symptoms may be.
About ten to fifteen percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are found to have hereditary ties to the disease. The most significant factor in this predisposition is in a genetic mutation of either the breast cancer gene one (BRCA1) or breast cancer gene two (BRCA2). These genes are responsible for five to ten percent of all ovarian cancers. Eastern European women and those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are found to have a higher risk of mutations in either of these genes.
There are other genetic links to ovarian cancer. Lynch syndrome is one such example, also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). While it poses the greatest risk of colorectal cancer, women with this condition have about a twelve percent chance of developing ovarian and uterine cancer.
Family history is also worth considering. Women who have a first degree relative with the condition have a 5 percent chance of developing it themselves, whereas the average woman only has about a 1.4 percent chance. Heredity is definitely worth considering in other cases as well, however many women develop the gene mutation regardless of having any family history.
There are many other risk factors worth considering. One such factor that may increase risk is increasing age. Women between the ages of fifty-five and sixty-four are found to have the highest rates of ovarian cancer. Another factor is obesity and taking prolonged estrogen therapy and hormone replacement therapy. Finally, reproductive history and fertility may be taken into account. Examples include:
Starting menstruation at an early age (before twelve years old)
Having never given birth to any children
Never taken oral contraceptives
Experiencing menopause after fifty years old
Having your first child after thirty-five years old or who never carried a pregnancy to term
Infertility, regardless of whether fertility drugs are taken or not
However, there are a few things women can do to decrease their risk of ovarian cancer
Women who have used oral contraceptives (also known as birth control pills) have a lower risk of ovarian cancer. The lower risk is seen after only 3 to 6 months of using the pill, and the risk is lower the longer the pills are used. This lower risk continues for many years after the pill is stopped.
A recent study found that the women who used depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA or Depo-Provera), an injectable hormonal contraceptive had a lower risk of ovarian cancer. The risk was even lower if the women had used it for 3 or more years.
Tubal ligation (having your tubes tied) or salpingectomy (having your tubes removed) may reduce the chance of developing ovarian cancer by up to two-thirds. A hysterectomy (removing the uterus without removing the ovaries) also seems to reduce the risk of getting ovarian cancer by about one-third.
Currently there is no routine screening tests for ovarian cancer like a pap smear for cervical cancer, or a mammogram for breast cancer.
Some exams and tests that are done to look for or diagnose ovarian cancer include:
- A physical exam, including a pelvic exam and Pap test. An ovarian lump may be felt during a pelvic exam. A rectovaginal exam may also be done to feel the pelvic organs.
- A biopsy, which is the only way to know for sure if a woman has ovarian cancer. This usually is done with a laparotomy, through a cut (incision) in the belly.
- A cancer antigen 125 (CA-125) level, to measure a protein found on the surface of many ovarian cancer cells.
- A pelvic and transvaginal ultrasound, to look for an ovarian lump.
- A pelvic or abdominal CT scan or MRI, to check for the spread of cancer
Standard treatment of ovarian cancer consists of surgery followed by several rounds of chemotherapy. While only thirty seven percent of women are found to receive this treatment, evidence shows it is most effective. However, only a doctor can make the correct judgment in individual cases.
In surgery, a doctor will attempt to remove all visible tumors. Following this, patients will commonly undergo chemotherapy to kill any cancer cells that may remain in the body following surgery. Sometimes intraperitoneal chemotherapy or neoadjuvant chemotherapy may be used if the specific situation requires it. In intraperitoneal chemotherapy, the medicine is directly placed into the peritoneal area through a surgically implanted port and catheter. In neoadjuvant chemotherapy, chemotherapy is received before surgery in removal of the tumors.
Choosing a Doctor
Regular women’s health exam is important and may contribute to early detection of ovarian cancer.Whether you are concerned about ovarian cancer specifically, or simply have other female concerns that need to be addressed, Complete Care Surgical Center, and doctors at Complete Women Care, are here for you. We have trained physicians here to address your concerns and make you feel comfortable about whatever treatment options are available and necessary to get you back to feeling healthy and happy again.
To schedule a visitation, contact Complete Care Surgical Center today at 855 376 2496. We are happy to serve our patients living in the Long Beach area.
Whether ovarian cancer has taken control of your life or you simply want information, we here at Complete Care Surgical Center are happy to assist you in getting your life back on track through compassion, professional care, and dedication to our patients’ health and well being!