Ovarian Cancer

ExitCare ImageThe ovaries are the parts of the female reproductive system that produce eggs. Women have two ovaries. They are located on either side of the uterus. Ovarian cancer is an abnormal growth of tissue (tumor) in one or both ovaries that is cancerous (malignant). Unlike noncancerous (benign) tumors, malignant tumors can spread to other parts of your body.

CAUSES

The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown.

RISK FACTORS

There are a number of risk factors that can increase your chances of getting ovarian cancer. They include:

  • Age. Ovarian cancer is most common in women aged 50–75 years.

  • Being Caucasian.

  • Personal or family history of endometrial, colon, breast, or ovarian cancer.

  • Having the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes.

  • Using fertility medicines.

  • Starting menstruation before the age of 12 years.

  • Starting menopause after the age of 50 years.

  • Becoming pregnant for the first time at the age of 35 years or older.

  • Never being pregnant.

  • Having hormone replacement therapy.

  • Eating high amounts of animal fat.

SYMPTOMS

Early ovarian cancer often does not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include:

  • Unexplained weight loss.

  • Abdominal pain, swelling, or bloating.

  • Pain and pressure in the back and pelvis.

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Frequent urination.

  • Pain during intercourse.

  • Fatigue.

DIAGNOSIS

Your caregiver will ask about your medical history. He or she may also perform a number of procedures, such as:

  • A pelvic exam. Your caregiver will feel the organs in the pelvis for any lumps or changes in their shape or size.

  • Imaging tests, such as computed tomography (CT) scans, ultrasound tests, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

  • Blood tests.

Your cancer will be staged to determine its severity and extent. Staging is a careful attempt to find out the size of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread, and if so, to what parts of the body. You may need to have more tests to determine the stage of your cancer. The test results will help determine what treatment plan is best for you.

STAGES

  • Stage I. The cancer is found in only one or both ovaries.

  • Stage II. The cancer has spread to other parts of the pelvis, such as the uterus or fallopian tubes.

  • Stage III. The cancer has spread outside the pelvis to the abdominal cavity or to the lymph nodes in the abdomen.

  • Stage IV. The cancer has spread outside the abdomen to areas such as the liver or lungs.

TREATMENT

Most women with ovarian cancer are treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.

  • If the cancer is found at an early stage, surgery may be done to remove one ovary and its fallopian tube.

  • For more advanced cases, surgery may be done to remove the uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Your caregiver may also remove the lymph nodes near the tumor and some tissue in the abdomen.

  • Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be used before or after the surgery.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines as directed by your caregiver.

  • Maintain a healthy diet.

  • Consider joining a support group. If you are feeling stressed because you have ovarian cancer, a support group may help you learn to cope with the disease.

  • Seek advice to help you manage the treatment of side effects.

  • Keep all follow-up appointments as directed by your caregiver.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have new or worsening symptoms.

  • You have a fever during your chemotherapy treatment.