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Ovarian Cancer

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Overview

Ovaries are part of the female reproductive system. They produce a women’s eggs and female hormones. Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. Cancer of the ovary is rare, but it causes more deaths than other female reproductive cancers.

Ovarian cancer is a disease in which, depending on the type and stage of the disease, malignant (cancerous) cells are found inside, near, or on the outer layer of the ovaries. An ovary is one of two small, almond-shaped organs located on each side of the uterus that store eggs, or germ cells, and produce female hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer may cause several signs and symptoms. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are as follows:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble in eating or feeling full quickly after eating
  • Urinary symptoms such as urgency or frequent urination.

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer includes:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Upset stomach
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Constipation
  • Changes in woman’s period, such as heavier bleeding than normal bleeding or irregular bleeding
  • Abdominal swelling with weight loss.
  • Back pain
  • Indigestion or heart burn
  • Loss of appetite

Causes of Ovarian Cancer

Some of the causes of ovarian cancer are as follows:

 

  • Family History: Women with the family history of ovarian cancer are at the higher risk of developing the ovarian cancer as compared with other women. Genetic screening can help to determine whether somebody carries certain genes that are associated with an increased risk.
  • Age: Most cases of ovarian cancer occur after menopause and especially in women aged over 63 years. It is rare before the age of 40 years.
  • Reproductive history: Women who had one or more full term pregnancies, before the age of 26 years. The more pregnancies they have, the lower the risk. Breastfeeding may also decrease the risk.
  • Birth Control: Increased use of birth control pills or contraceptive pills increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Obesity and overweight: Obesity and overweight appear to increase the risk of developing many cancers. Ovarian cancer is more common in women with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30.
  • Endometriosis: Women who develop endometriosis have an around 30 percent higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, compared with other women.

Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer

Following is the diagnosis of the ovarian cancer:

 

  • Blood tests: Some blood tests are crucial to be done for the diagnosis of the ovarian cancer.
  • Imaging tests: Some imaging tests such as Transvaginal ultrasound, MRI, or a CT scan are used for the diagnosis of the ovarian cancer.
  • Laparoscopy: A laparoscope, a thin viewing tube with a camera at the end, is inserted through a small incision in the lower abdomen. This will allow the doctor to see the ovaries and, if necessary, to take a tissue sample
  • Colonoscopy: If there is constipation or bleeding from the rectum, a colonoscopy may be needed, to examine the large intestine, or colon.
  • Abdominal fluid aspiration: If the patient’s abdomen is swollen, there may be a buildup of fluid, which can be examined by using a fine needle to remove some fluid through the abdomen.
  • Biopsy: The usual way to diagnose ovarian cancer is to remove the tumor or part of the tumor to examine for the presence of cancer cells.

Treatment of Ovarian Cancer

Treatment for ovarian cancer consists of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy. Often more than one treatment is used.

The kind of treatment depends on many factors, including the type of ovarian cancer, its stage, and grade, as well as the general health of the patient.

Surgery:

In most cases, surgery is done to remove the cancer. It is often the first option. The extent of the surgery depends on the stage of the cancer.

  • Salpingo-oophorectomy: Surgery is done to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
  • Hysterectomy: The surgeon removes the uterus and any surrounding tissue that is affected. If only the uterus is removed, this is a partial hysterectomy. In premenopausal women, menopause will begin immediately after this procedure.
  • Lymph node dissection: The surgeon removes lymph nodes in the pelvis and near the aorta.
  • Cytoreductive or debulking surgery: If the cancer has spread beyond the pelvic area, the surgeon will reduce as much cancerous tissue as possible. This may include tissue from the gallbladder and other organs. This procedure can help relieve symptoms and make chemotherapy more effective.

Chemotherapy:

Chemotherapy is the use of certain medications to destroy cancer cells. Cytotoxic medication delivers drugs that are poisonous to cells. These drugs prevent the cancer cells from dividing and growing.

Chemotherapy is used to target cancer cells that surgery cannot or did not remove.

Treatment usually involves 3 to 6 chemotherapy sessions, or cycles. These will be given 3 to 4 weeks apart, to allow the body time to recover. If the cancer returns or begins to grow back again, chemotherapy may be given again to shrink it.

Targeted chemotherapy:

Newer medications can directly target specific pathways or functions in cancer cells. These medications include bevacizumab (Avastin) and olaparib (Lynparza).

Unlike traditional chemotherapy, these drugs limit damage to normal cells. This reduces common side effects.

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