Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is cancer that begins in the ovaries. In women, the ovaries produce eggs (ova). The ovaries are also the main source of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. One ovary is located on each side of the uterus in the pelvis.

Risk Factors

  • Age — The likelihood of developing ovarian cancer increases as a woman gets older with most ovarian cancers occurring in women over the age of 50.
  • Childbearing — Women who have never had children are more likely to develop ovarian cancer than women who have had children. The more children a woman has had, the less likely she is to develop ovarian cancer.
  • Family History — First-degree relatives (mother, daughter or sister) of a woman who has had ovarian cancer are at increased risk of developing this type of cancer themselves, especially if two or more first-degree relatives have had the disease.
  • Fertility Drugs — Drugs that cause a woman to ovulate may slightly increase a woman's chance of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy — Some evidence suggests that women who use hormone replacement therapy after menopause may have a slightly increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Personal History — Women who have had breast or colon cancer may have a greater chance of developing ovarian cancer than women who have not had breast or colon cancer.
  • Talc — Some studies suggest that women who have used talc in the genital area for many years may be at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Symptoms

  • Abdominal discomfort and/or pain (gas, indigestion, pressure, swelling, bloating, cramps)
  • Abnormal bleeding from the vagina
  • Feeling of fullness (even after light meals)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea, diarrhea, constipation or frequent urination
  • Weight gain or loss (with no known reason)

Diagnosis

Your physician will conduct a thorough physical examination and may use the following diagnostic tests to determine the presence of ovarian cancer:

  • Biopsy — The surgeon will remove tissue in the abdomen. If cancer is suspected, the surgeon will remove the entire ovary. This is important because if cancer is present, removing just a sample of tissue by cutting through the outer layer of the ovary could allow cancer cells to escape and cause the disease to spread.
  • CA-125 Assay — This blood test measures the level of CA-125, a tumor marker that is often found in higher-than-normal amounts in the blood of women with ovarian cancer.
  • CT (or CAT) Scan — A CT scan will provide a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are created by a computer and linked to an X-ray machine.
  • Lower GI Series (or barium enema) — This is a series of X-rays of the colon and the rectum taken after the patient is given an enema with a white, chalky solution containing barium. The barium outlines the colon and rectum on the X-ray, making tumors or other abnormal areas easier to see.
  • Pelvic Exam — This exam feels the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and rectum to detect abnormalities.
  • Ultrasound — High-frequency sound waves are aimed at the ovaries. The pattern of the echoes they produce creates a sonogram and differentiates healthy tissues and fluid-filled cysts from tumors.

Source: National Cancer Institute