What Is Ovarian Cancer?


Ovarian cancer is that the most fatal of all cancers involving a woman’s procreative tract. Most gonad cancer develops aftermenopause; concerning half gonad cancers occur in ladies over age sixty. Unfortunately, only 15 percent of ovarian cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, when the disease is confined to the ovary and is most easily treated. Women diagnosed within the early stages have associate eighty nine to ninety four p.c likelihood of extant a minimum of 5 years.

About seventy five p.c of girls with gonad cancer survive one year when identification, and 46 percent survive five years after being diagnosed. The survival rate drops because the stage of the cancer will increase, with an 18 percent five-year survival rate in women whose cancer has spread beyond the abdomen. Younger ladies (below age 65) have a more robust five-year survival rate than older women.

An calculable twenty two,280 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012, according to the American Cancer Society, and about 15,500 will die of the disease.

The ovaries area unit the a part of the feminine procreative organs that manufacture eggs each month throughout a woman’s procreative cycle. The ovaries area unit concerning the dimensions associated form of an almond (1 1/2 inches long), but after menopause, they shrink to about half their original size. They are located on either side of the lower abdomen.

Women WHO still have periods will develop cysts on the ovary, which can be felt on apelvic exam or seen via X-rays or other tests. They are rarely cancerous, particularly in younger women.

Cysts are less common in women who have already gone through menopause. If cysts occur in these women, they’re more likely to be cancerous. A cyst or associate enlarged ovary in an exceedingly girl WHO has tried and true climacteric should be evaluated quickly to form certain it’s not a cancer.

In gonad cancer, the cells of the ovary grow and divide uncontrollably. The cells may form a tumor on the ovary, parts of which can break off and spread to other parts of the body.

Although ovarian cancer can spread throughout the body and affect other organs and systems (brain, lungs, breast and lymph nodes, for example), in most cases it stays in the abdomen and affects organs such as the intestines, liver and stomach.

There are three main types of ovarian cancer. Most cancers of the ovary (about ninety percent) return from the cells that structure the outer lining of the ovary and area unit known as animal tissue gonad cancers. Although most animal tissue gonad cancers occur in ladies while not a case history of the malady, concerning ten p.c to fifteen p.c of girls with gonad animal tissue cancer produce other family members WHO additionally had constant cancer or have a case history of carcinoma, ovarian cancer and/or colon cancer.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer (particularly in its early stage) are often not obvious or intense. They include:

  • pelvic or abdominal pain, pressure or discomfort
  • vague but persistent gastrointestinal upsets such as gas, nausea and indigestion
  • frequency and/or urgency of urination in absence of an infection
  • changes in bowel habits
  • weight gain or loss; particularly weight gain in the abdominal area
  • pelvic or abdominal swelling, bloating or a feeling of fullness
  • back or leg pain
  • pain during intercourse
  • ongoing fatigue


Who gets ovarian cancer? A woman will inherit associate augmented risk for this malady, notably if a “first-degree” relative (a mother, sister or daughter) has or had ovarian, breast or colon cancer. In fact, if a girl incorporates a robust case history of gonad cancer, she is a lot of seemingly to develop the malady at associate early age (on average, 10 years younger than ladies while not genetic risk factors for the disease). Other risk factors include:

  • Being of Eastern European Jewish ethnicity (Ashkenazi) if the condition has already affected one or more family members
  • Having a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene; the lifetime risk of a woman with the BRCA1 mutation is between 35 percent and 70 percent, and the lifetime risk of a woman with the BRCA2 mutation is between 10 percent and 30 percent
  • Having a personal history of breast, endometrial or colon cancer
  • Never having been pregnant
  • A high-fat diet
  • Obesity
  • Starting your periods at a young age (before age 12) or going through menopause at an older than average age (after age 50)

Of all risk factors, the foremost vital may be a case history of breast and/or gonad cancer. However, it’s important to keep risk factors in perspective. Most women with risk factors for gonad cancer can ne’er get gonad cancer. And most girls with gonad cancer don’t have any robust risk factors for the malady.

Even with vital risk factors like case history, the overall chances of getting ovarian cancer are still small. Nonetheless, you should talk to your health care professional if you know you have any risk factors.

To date, only about 10 percent of ovarian cancer cases are caused by inherited defects in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Genes, the items of the chemical DNA at intervals your cells that area unit inheritable from your oldsters, determine many aspects of your body’s makeup. Scientists have legendary for years that genes facilitate confirm the chance for developing a malady like cancer.

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes commonly facilitate forestall cancer by creating a supermolecule that keeps cells from growing an excessive amount of. But if you have a defect in either of these genes—inherited from either parent—they don’t make that protein, and there’s nothing to slow down or stop rapidly multiplying cells from becoming cancerous.

There area unit several queries around genetic testing for a genetic risk for gonad cancer, both scientific and ethical. If you want to have genetic testing, you should see a specially trained genetic counselor who can accurately and appropriately counsel you about your risk and options.

The genetic counselor, in concert with your physician, can recommend prevention and screening strategies, discuss your options for risk reduction and counsel you about the psychosocial issues around this topic, regardless of family history or inherited susceptibility. Your health care skilled will refer you to a licensed genetic counselor.

Diagnostic Tests

If you or your doctor suspects you’ll have sex gland cancer, otherwise you have a awfully high risk of developing it, you may endure sure diagnostic tests. Unfortunately, there aren’t any screening tests for sex gland cancer (as there area unit for alternative cancers, like carcinoma or colon cancer). The following imaging tests can show whether a mass is present, but cannot tell whether or not the mass is cancerous.

  • Abdominal or transvaginal ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to distinguish fluid-filled cysts from solid ones. It is often used to rule out or identify a possible cancer.
  • CT scan. This test produces X-ray images of cross sections of body tissues. It is used to show the size of the tumor or mass, whether lymph nodes are involved and whether the tumor has spread to other organs. It is also used to guide a biopsy needle into a tumor to obtain a tissue sample.

Other diagnostic tests that may be used include:

  • Chest X-ray. A chest X-ray can determine whether ovarian cancer has spread to the lungs.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET scan). During a PET scan, a radioactive glucose is given to look for cancer. Cancers use glucose at a higher rate than normal tissues, so radioactivity will concentrate in the cancer and show up on a scan. In some cases, PET scans are helpful in finding ovarian cancer that has spread, especially when combined with a CT scan.
  • Laparoscopy. During a laparoscopy, a physician uses a thin, lighted tube to look at the ovaries and other pelvic organs and tissues. The tube is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen, and it sends images to a video monitor. Laparoscopy can help plan surgery or other treatments that help determine how far ovarian cancer has spread.
  • Biopsy. The only way to definitely determine whether or not a tumor is cancerous is to obtain a sample of the tumor and examine it under a microscope during a procedure called a biopsy. For ovarian cancer, biopsies are most frequently done by removing the tumor at surgery.
  • Blood tests. To help diagnose ovarian cancer, a health care professional may order blood tests to check for blood counts (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets), to measure kidney and liver function and to assess overall health status. In addition, the health care professional may order a blood test that checks for CA-125,a protein found in the blood of many women with ovarian cancer. However, alternative conditions, including normal ovulation, endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease can also raise CA-125 levels. And some ladies with sex gland cancer should have traditional levels of CA-125. Because of these issues, the CA-125 test is not recommended for women at average risk of ovarian cancer, but it may be used for women at high risk or for those with symptoms suggesting ovarian cancer. If the CA-125 is elevated, consultation with a gynecologic oncologist is recommended.
  • Lower GI series (barium dye enema). During a Ba dye clyster, barium sulfate, a chalky substance, is placed into the colon and rectum. The Ba outlines the colon and body part so that they area unit a lot of visible on X-rays. This check permits your caregiver to visualize the internal organ on X-ray to notice abnormalities.

If your health care professional suspects ovarian cancer, you will likely undergo an exploratory laparotomy. During a laparotomy, the surgeon makes an incision in your stomach and removes the tumor. The surgeon then performs a biopsy to see if the tumor is cancerous. If the tissue is indeed cancerous, the surgeon will remove as much of the tumor and affected tissue/organs as possible.


The first step in treating ovarian cancer is removing as much of the cancerous growth as possible and any tissue to which the cancer has spread.

Often, this involves the removal of one or both ovaries, as well as the fallopian tube (the tube that connects the ovary to the uterus). The removal of one ovary is called a unilateral (one side) salpingo-oophorectomy and the removal of both ovaries is called a bilateral (two sides) salpingo-oophorectomy. The removal of one fallopian tube is called a unilateral salpingectomy, and the removal of both is called a bilateral salpingectomy.

Often, the surgeon removes the uterus (hysterectomy) and the omentum (the fatty lining of the abdominal cavity), where this type of cancer tends to spread (omentectomy).

The surgeon will also check your lymph nodes (small organs that fight infection and disease) for signs of disease and may take tissue samples from various places in the abdominal cavity to check for cancer cells.

It is vital to require out the maximum amount of the neoplasm as potential, a procedure called “tumor debulking,” because it is associated with increased rate of survival.

If you’re diagnosed with sex gland cancer, you ought to get treatment from a gynaecological specialist, a gynaecological operating surgeon with specialised coaching in cancers of the fruitful tract. You can find one through the Foundation for Women’s Cancer at 1-800-444-4441 or www.foundationforwomenscancer.org or the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists at 312-235-4060 or www.sgo.org.

Staging Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is staged based on the surgical findings.

  • Stage I: Cancer is found in one or both of the ovaries but has not spread.
  • Stage II: Cancer is found in one or both ovaries and/or has spread to the uterus, and/or the fallopian tubes (the pathway used by the egg to get from the ovary to the uterus), and/or other body parts within the pelvis, such as the bladder or rectum.
  • Stage III: Cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread to the lymph nodes, other organs within the peritoneal cavity, the surface of the liver or the lining of the abdomen. (Lymph nodes, which produce and store infection-fighting cells, are found throughout the body.)
  • Stage IV: This is the most advanced stage. Cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread outside the abdominal cavity to distant organs such as the lungs the inside of the liver or the lymph nodes in the groin, or there are cancer cells in the fluid around the lungs.
  • Recurrent or refractory: Recurrent disease means that the cancer has returned after treatment. Refractory disease means the cancer no longer responds to standard treatment.

If the disease has spread beyond the ovaries, chemotherapy is used following surgery. Radiation therapy is rarely used in the initial treatment of ovarian cancer.

After surgery, your doctor will typically recommend six cycles of chemotherapy administered every three to four weeks, followed by a rest period between cycles.

Anticancer drugs—chemotherapy—travel through the bloodstream to almost every area of the body. Drugs used to treat cancer may be given in different ways: Some are given by mouth; others are injected into a muscle, a vein or an artery. Some chemotherapies are given directly into the abdominal cavity (called intraperitoneal chemotherapy). You will be counseled regarding the best way for you to receive chemotherapy. The combination of both intravenous and intraperitoneal chemotherapy has been shown to increase survival in three large, well-designed studies of women newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer who are undergoing initial chemotherapy. Women with very little disease remaining in the abdomen after surgery are the best candidates for intraperitoneal chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer usually consists of a combination of two or more drugs given via IV every three to four weeks. The standard treatment is a combination of a platinum compound, such as carboplatin or cisplatin, and a taxane, such as paclitaxel (Taxol) or docetaxel (Taxotere). The most common combination is carboplatin and paclitaxel.

  • Paclitaxel (Taxol): Paclitaxel is a first-line treatment for advanced ovarian cancer. Originally developed from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, paclitaxel is usually given in combination with other anticancer drugs through intravenous infusion. You may additionally receive paclitaxel intraperitoneally.Like most cancer medication, paclitaxel may have serious side effects. Its most serious aspect impact is harm to the bone marrow, the soft, spongy tissue within the center of enormous bones that produces blood cells that fight infection. Thus, your body may not make enough white blood cells to protect you from infection, a condition called neutropenia. This causes you to additional at risk of infections.So while you’re receiving paclitaxel, your doctor will recommend that you stay away from crowds and people with colds, flu or other infections. Discuss with your doctor the need for any vaccines, such as flu shots.Common side effects may include:
    • hair loss
    • bleeding gums
    • burning or tingling in hands or feet
    • nausea and vomiting (rarely)
    • pain in joints or muscles
    • skin rash or itching
    • fatigue

    Occasionally, some folks develop associate degree hypersensitivity to paclitaxel, usually with the first or second treatment. Your doctor will provide you with bound medications before treatment to assist minimize or perhaps stop several of its aspect effects. You may experience some discomfort during the intraperitoneal infusion of paclitaxel.

  • Carboplatin (Paraplatin). This therapy medication is additionally administered via endovenous infusion, typically together with paclitaxel. Carboplatin and cisplatin can also be infused intraperitoneally. Make sure your health care professional gives you medication to reduce nausea and vomiting before starting the infusion.

Other possible side effects include:

  • pain
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • change in taste
  • hair loss or brittle hair
  • lowered blood counts
  • Numbness, burning or tingling in your fingers/toes
  • changes in kidney function (cisplatin only)
  • diminished hearing (cisplatin only)

All aspect effects rely on the medication given, the dose and the individual response of the patient. Most side effects end after treatment is stopped. Many aspect effects of therapy are reduced over the years through refinement of the medication, the delivery of the drugs and/or pretreating with other medications to prevent side effects like nausea. It’s important to inform your health care skilled concerning your reactions and aspect effects as a result of he or she could also be ready to change treatments to assist you are feeling higher.

Loss of appetence is a heavy drawback for girls receiving therapy. Yet uptake well is vital, since studies realize ladies WHO eat well ar higher ready to stand up to the aspect effects of treatment. Eating well means that obtaining enough calories to forestall weight loss and having enough macromolecule in your diet to create and repair skin, hair, muscles and organs. Many women say that uptake many little meals throughout the day is simpler than uptake 3 giant meals.

Your doctor should also prescribe medications such as filgrastim (Neupogen), pegfilgrastim (Neulasta) or sargramostim (Leukine) between chemotherapy cycles to quickly restore reduced white blood cell counts to normal levels to help prevent infection.

In addition to the standard chemotherapy drugs, other available drugs include:

  • Topotecan (Hycamtin): This drug is employed to treat pathologic process (cancer that has spread) female internal reproductive organ cancer when initial or ensuant therapy has unsuccessful. This is one of the first of a relatively new kind of drugs that kills cancer cells by inhibiting an enzyme essential to the replication of human DNA. It is infused or given intravenously by a health care professional experienced in administering anticancer (chemotherapeutic) drugs.
  • Doxorubicin liposome (Doxil). This drug is additionally wont to treat pathologic process female internal reproductive organ cancer that now not responds to paclitaxel or carboplatin. Doxorubicin cyst stays within the blood longer than alternative therapy medication therefore it’s longer to succeed in the tumour and shrink and delay its progression. Note: there’s a risk of severe heart harm with prolonged use of antibiotic drug cyst, even years after you stop taking the drug. Discuss this risk with your health care professional and be sure to tell him or her about any other previous chemotherapy treatments and all drugs you are taking. You may also experience swelling or blistering of the bottoms of your feet or palms of your hands.
  • Additional chemotherapy drugs, including gemcitabine (Gemzar), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), vinorelbine (Navelbine), ifosfamide (Ifex) and etoposide (VP-16) may also be used.

Serious side effects of chemotherapy that may require medical attention include:

  • severe constipation or diarrhea
  • difficulty breathing
  • fever, chills, cough or urinary frequency
  • mouth sores
  • nausea, vomiting
  • pain, swelling, redness or irritation at the injection site
  • stomach pain
  • unusual bleeding or bruising, pinpoint red spots on the skin
  • unusual tiredness or weakness

After your treatment ends, your health care professional should discuss follow-up care. This usually involves regular blood tests—possibly as well as tests for tumour markers like CA-125 —X-rays, ultrasound studies, symptom observation or, additional seldom, a second-look surgery to form certain the cancer has not returned.

Living with Recurrent Ovarian Cancer

Today, ladies with gonad cancer ar additional possible than ever to measure for years when identification, due to additional aggressive surgical techniques and also the use of chemotherapies like paclitaxel and carboplatin. They’re conjointly additional possible to hunt facilitate from health care professionals World Health Organization specialise in gonad cancer (gynecologic oncologists).

However, the probability of recurrence in ovarian cancer patients is significant. Most women with this type of cancer experience a recurrence.

For ovarian cancers that have recurred, doctors may use the chemotherapy drugs topotecan (Hycamtin), liposomal doxorubicin (Doxil), etoposide (Etopophos, Vepesid), gemcitabine (Gemzar), vinorelbine (Navelbine), and/or cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), targeted agents such as bevacizumab (Avastin) and/or other drugs.

It is anticipated that emerging therapies will help increase overall survival time and offer hope to those living with the disease.


There is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, but your level of risk may be reduced by:

  • Having each ovaries removed; this procedure, known as associate cutting out, is only performed on women who have an extremely high risk of ovarian cancer, usually only in women who have completed childbearing, but, ideally, by age 35. While it considerably reduces the chance of cancer, it does not entirely eliminate it. There is still a small risk of primary serous membrane cancer, that stems from identical cells that cause gonad cancer.
  • Using oral contraceptives for five or more years. This can reduce your risk as much as 50 percent.
  • Having one or more children and breastfeeding. The more children you’ve had, the lower your risk. However, health care professionals do not suggest making a decision about when to have a child simply for the purpose of reducing ovarian cancer risk. Taking the pill incorporates a larger impact on gonad cancer risk than maternity.
  • Having a tubal ligation, a surgical procedure in which the fallopian tubes are tied to prevent pregnancy. Some studies show that once performed when childbearing, tubal ligation can reduce the risk for ovarian cancer up to 67 percent. However, this procedure ought to solely be in dire straits valid medical reasons, not solely to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Having a ablation, an operation in which your uterus is removed, may also reduce your risk. However, you should not have a hysterectomy just to reduce your risk of ovarian cancer. If {you ar|you’re} having a ablation for a medical reason and you have got a case history of gonad or carcinoma or are over age forty, confer with your doctor about also having your ovaries removed.

No one is aware of sure why ligation and ablation decrease the chance of gonad cancer. One theory is that these procedures could stop some cancer-causing substances from getting into the body through the epithelial duct and traveling through the female internal reproductive organ and fallopian tubes to the ovaries. Another is that both procedures impair blood supply to the ovaries, which is somehow protective.

Some research suggests a slightly increased risk of ovarian cancer with exposure to talcum powders in the genital area.

Facts to Know

  1. Ovarian cancer is that the leading reason for gynaecological cancer deaths among yank ladies. It is the ninth most common cancer in women. An calculable twenty two,280 yank ladies are going to be diagnosed with gonad cancer in 2012, according to the American Cancer Society, and about 15,500 will die of the disease.
  2. Only 15 percent of ovarian cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, when the cancer is confined to the ovary. Most cases are diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, making it difficult to treat successfully.
  3. One woman out of every 71 (approximately 1.4 percent) will develop ovarian cancer at some point in her lifetime.
  4. Ovarian cancer is most common in women who have already gone through menopause. About half of women diagnosed with the disease are age 60 or older.
  5. For the small number of women who are fortunate enough to have their cancer diagnosed before it has spread beyond the ovary, the chance of surviving five years after diagnosis is as high as 89 percent to 94 percent.
  6. About 75 percent of women with ovarian cancer survive one year after diagnosis, and 46 percent survive five years after being diagnosed. The survival rate drops as the cancer becomes more advanced, with an 18 percent five-year survival rate in women whose cancer has spread beyond the abdomen.
  7. A major risk factor for getting ovarian cancer is a history of breast, endometrial or colon cancer.
  8. The only sure way to diagnose ovarian cancer is through microscopic evaluation of tissue obtained during surgery.
  9. Hycamtin is one of the first of a relatively new kind of anticancer drugs that kills cancer cells by inhibiting an enzyme essential to the replication of human DNA.
  10. The first step in treating ovarian cancer is to remove as much of the cancerous tumor as possible, called tumor debulking.
  11. Surgery to treat ovarian cancer may involve removal of one or both of your ovaries (oophorectomy), your uterus (hysterectomy) or the omentum, a fatty apron within the abdomen (omentectomy). In some cases, lymph nodes may also be removed.
  12. If the tumor has spread beyond the ovaries, chemotherapy and rarely, radiation, will also be used as part of treatment.

Key Q&A

  1. What is ovarian cancer?There are three main types of ovarian cancer tumors—germ cell tumors, stromal tumors and epithelial tumors. About 90 percent of ovarian cancer patients have an epithelial tumor, which begins in the surface tissue of the ovary (epithelium).
  2. What causes ovarian cancer?The specific cause of ovarian cancer is unknown. But there are some common risk factors, including your personal and family history and never having a pregnancy.
  3. What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?Historically, ovarian cancer was referred to as the “silent killer” because symptoms are easily mistaken as other conditions; by the time they’re associated with ovarian cancer, the disease has already spread through a woman’s abdomen and beyond. Regardless, symptoms include: a feeling of being bloated, vague abdominal and pelvic discomfort, gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas and constipation, back pain and fatigue.
  4. What kinds of tests will my health care professional order?It depends on your health, age and history. Remember, sometimes diagnosing a disease is a matter of ruling other things out first, so you may have to go through a number of tests so your health care professional can make a firm diagnosis. One of the first might be a Pap smear. After that, you may have a CA-125 blood test, abdominal or transvaginal ultrasound, a CT scan or a lower GI series (barium enema).
  5. What are the treatment options for ovarian cancer?Treatments vary depending on the stage of disease, your age and your overall health condition. The primary treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and rarely, radiation.
  6. How can I find out if I have a mutation on the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes and what if I do?First, realize that everyone has these genes. They are designed to help prevent the over-production of cells. Only about 10 percent of women with ovarian cancer have a mutation in one or both of these genes. If you have a defect in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, it means that you may have an 18 percent to 62 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer. If you have a history of ovarian cancer in your family, you can seek the help of a qualified genetic counselor to conduct an extensive genetic/medical history and obtain advice about whether or not to proceed with the test. Finally, if either of these genes is defective, it doesn’t mean you’ll get cancer. Plus, you can take preventive steps such as having your ovaries removed to significantly reduce your risk. Seek advice from your health care professional on how to proceed.
  7. My father had colon cancer and I heard that, not only am I a candidate for the same disease, but that my chances for ovarian cancer are increased as well. Is that true?Yes. Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer is caused by a defect in certain genes. This defect reduces your body’s ability to repair damage to its DNA and results in very high risks for colon, endometrial (the lining of the uterus) and ovarian cancers. Again, if this form of cancer is in your family, you may want to consider genetic counseling and testing.
  8. Why am I supposed to avoid talcum powder?Some studies suggest that when women put talcum powder directly on the genital area, or even on sanitary napkins, it increases the risk of ovarian cancer. You might want to substitute a cornstarch-based product to be safe.