Ovarian Cancer – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment


What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is cancer that begins in the ovaries. The ovaries are the primary female reproductive organs that produce eggs. Ovarian cancer begins when cells in the ovaries grow and multiply uncontrollably. Ovarian cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among women. It causes more deaths than any other type of female reproductive organ cancer.

What causes ovarian cancer?
What causes ovarian cancer is not known to doctors and other experts. Any of the following factors may increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer:

  • Inherited genetic mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • Personal history of breast, uterus, colon, or rectal cancer
  • Personal history of endometriosis
  • The family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Increasing age
  • History of hormone replacement therapy.

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague and they often mimic symptoms of other common conditions. Most women experience symptoms after the disease has spread beyond the ovaries.

The following are the early symptoms:

  • Abdominal bloating, swelling, or pain
  • Difficulty eating or abnormal fullness after eating
  • Urinary frequency and urgency
  • Heavy feeling in the pelvis

The following other symptoms may also occur with ovarian cancer:

  • Abnormal menstrual cycles
  • Loss of appetite
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Unexplained back pain
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods
  • Pain with sex
  • Weight gain or loss

The above symptoms can also occur due to other conditions. If these symptoms are not due to cancer, they respond to treatment and go away. If they persist, it is a sign that they are due to ovarian cancer. Please consult your doctor, if the symptoms persist and increase progressively.

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
It is very difficult to diagnose ovarian cancer until it has advanced beyond ovaries. No standard screening tests are available for ovarian cancer.

The doctor will perform a physical exam and review symptoms and medical history. If the doctor finds a swollen abdomen due to fluid buildup, it is a sign of advanced ovarian cancer. A pelvic examination may reveal an ovarian or abdominal mass.

The doctor may order some or more of the following tests:

  • Complete blood count and blood chemistry
  • CA-125 blood test
  • Pregnancy test (serum HCG)
  • CT or MRI of the pelvis or abdomen
  • Ultrasound of the pelvis
  • Transvaginal ultrasound
  • Biopsy of a piece of tissue from ovaries

How is ovarian cancer treated?
Mainly, surgery is used to treat all stages of ovarian cancer. Surgery is the only treatment for early stages of ovarian cancer. Surgery involves removing ovaries and fallopian tubes, the uterus, or other nearby structures depending on the situation.

Chemotherapy is used after surgery to treat remaining cancer. Chemotherapy is also used to treat if cancer relapses or comes back.

This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.

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