Ovaries are part of the reproductive organs of a woman. They are almond-sized organs that are located deep within the abdominal cavity. Ovarian cancer is a cancer that forms in the ovaries. Due to the location of the ovaries, it is difficult to diagnose ovarian cancer in the early stages due to the lack of symptoms or the vagueness of symptoms.
A woman can have ovarian cancer for a long time before she feels any symptom of the disease. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are very similar to the symptoms of ovulation and menstruation. Ovarian cancer primarily affects the ovaries, but, because they are small, the cancer can spread to the other organs in the pelvic cavity, including the womb and the bladder. Many women have little tumors in their ovaries, but not every tumor is cancerous. Also, the women can develop cysts that are full of liquid in their ovaries, but that is not ovarian cancer. If there is an out-of-control growth of cells in the ovaries, then there is a greater chance that the patient will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Types of Ovarian Cancers
The most common type of ovarian cancer is epithelial cancer, which comes from the cells of the epithelial surface of the ovaries. This forms 90% of the ovarian cancers.
The other types of ovarian cancer include:
- Stromal tumors – These usually begin in the ovarian tissue and form 7% of ovarian cancers. They are usually diagnosed at any earlier stage.
- Germ-cell tumors - This type is rare and tends to occur in younger women. They begin in the egg-producing cells.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are almost the same as the symptoms of nearly all diseases in the reproductive system. It can cause irregular and heavy bleeding, longer or shorter periods, delayed or early periods, painful ovulation, and so on. The growth of the tumor may put pressure on the other organs, especially the bladder, so women often feel an urge to urinate, even if their bladders are nearly empty.
Other symptoms are:
- Increased abdominal size and bloated abdomen
- Persistent pain in abdomen or pelvic region
- Difficulty in eating or feeling of fullness or nausea
If you notice any abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, then see your doctor right away. Also, if you notice any of these above symptoms for more than two weeks, then schedule an appointment with your doctor.
There are many risk factors for ovarian cancer, including:
- Age – women above 60 years old are more likely to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer compared to young women and girls, but that doesn’t mean that young women and teenagers are safe.
- Genes – women that have a medical history with ovarian cancer cases are also at a great risk.
- Early menstrual periods – some statistics show that if a woman has more ovulation and cycles in her life, she also has a high risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer later in her life.
- Inherited gene mutation – Women with inherited mutations in the breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA 1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA 2) are more likely to get ovarian cancer. These genes greatly increase the chances of having ovarian cancer.
All these risk factors are just probabilities, and it doesn’t mean that women under 60 or women who don’t have a family risk can’t be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. If you are genetically predisposed to ovarian cancer, then your doctor may recommend regular screening through pelvic imaging tests and blood tests.
When to see a Doctor
Every woman in the world of reproductive age or who are sexually active should visit her gynecologist at least once a year for regular examinations, including ultrasound screenings, microbiological tests, and PAP tests. The gynecologist will see and compare results if there are any changes to the tissues in the womb and ovaries, and if they suspect that there can be some form of cancer, they will send the patient to a specialist for future examinations. Sometimes, however, even the best doctor with the best ultrasound machine can confuse the results, because ovarian cancer in its very first stages looks just like any ordinary cyst or ovulation. By the next visit, it may be too late, because ovarian cancer grows very fast and can easily affect the uterus, the fallopian tubes, the bladder, and even the colon.
Knowing all of this, you should notify your gynecologist regarding every change you feel. If you think that you may have some gynecological problem (not only ovarian cancer), you should visit your gynecologist more often. Just like that, you will be able to control the disease. Sometimes, a mere month is enough for the smallest problem to become huge and cause many other health issues. Ovarian cancer is one of those diseases that can spread throughout the body rapidly and cause damage that can cost the person’s life.
If you have family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, then it is important that you discuss your concerns with your gynecologist. Your doctor may recommend testing for certain gene mutations that increase your risk of ovarian cancer. It is also important to understand that statistics show only a small number of women with genetic mutations develop ovarian cancer. Screening tests for ovarian cancer may not be accurate or very reliable, and it is recommend by doctors based upon the woman’s history and symptoms.
How to reduce your risk
- Be very aware of what is normal and abnormal for your body
- If you know what is normal, then it is more likely you will notice any changes in your body that coincide with ovarian cancer symptoms.
- If you have a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or colon cancer, or you have inherited genetic mutations, then discuss this with your doctor to see if you need to go in for any diagnostic tests.
- Don’t hesitate to consult another doctor for a second opinion to put your mind at ease.
- Do ask your doctor if you need to consult with a gynecologic oncologist, who is a doctor who specializes in treating women with this type of cancer.
- Have regular health exams.
- Take charge of your health and your body, and if you notice any changes, consult your doctor.