Ovaries are almond-size female organs located one on each side of the uterus. Once women reach maturity, their ovaries produce the eggs (ova) for reproduction as well as estrogen and progesterone, the female sex hormones.
Ominously known as the “silent killer,” ovarian cancer is a cancerous growth which originates in the ovaries. The cells of ovarian cancer can metastasize by either directly spreading into neighboring organs or tissues, or they can spread through the bloodstream or the lymph channels to remote parts of the body.
Ovarian cancer is categorized into three major groups: a) the epithelial ovarian cancer which is found in the lining of the ovaries and it is the most common form of ovarian cancer; b) the germ cell tumor which is found in the ovarian egg cells; and c) the stromal tumor which is found in the tissues that produces the estrogen and the progesterone.
Recent advancement in medicine have found more effective ways of treating ovarian cancer and today’s statistics are much more promising then they have ever been in the past. Women who are diagnosed and treated in the early stages of the ovarian cancer have a 93 percent survival rate. Further statistics of women’s health show that approximately 1.5 percent of women are at risk of developing ovarian cancer and it is, therefore, the second (after breast cancer) most common gynecologic malignancy; the fifth most widespread cause of death from cancer in women; and the number one cause of death from gynecological cancer.
It is unfortunate that symptoms of a serious disease such as ovarian cancer are often so mild and so vague that women delay seeking medical advice and they are then diagnosed in the more advanced stages of the disease which can lead to most undesirable outcomes. Because symptoms of cancer imitate so many other digestive problems, its misdiagnosis is, sadly, all too frequent.
The most common symptoms are abdominal pain or discomfort of bloating; abdominal swelling; lower back pain; urgent need for frequent urination; constipation and other digestive problems such as heartburn, indigestion, gas or nausea; fatigue and lack of energy; pain in the pelvic area; vaginal bleeding that is obviously different from menstrual bleeding and changes in menstrual cycles; the feeling of fullness and loss of appetite which leads to weight loss; water retention in the abdomen (ascites) which leads to increased abdominal girth; and painful sensations during intercourse.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer differ from the symptoms of other digestive problems in that they tend to be constant and persistent while the digestive disorders come and go and vary under different circumstances.
Causes and Risks
Some medical researchers believe that ovarian cancers may develop during the process of tissue repair which occurs as part of the normal menstrual cycles. Other researchers claim that ovarian cancer is developed as a result of increased hormonal levels during ovulation. The truth is that the exact cause of this cancer is still unknown. However, observations indicate that there are certain factors which increase the risks and those include heredity and family history of ovarian cancers; diagnosis and family history of breast cancers; advanced age; infertility; hormone replacement therapy (HRT); and obesity.
The treatment of ovarian cancer is usually quite aggressive and it includes the following:
- Surgery. Preferably performed by a gynecologic oncologist, surgery for ovarian cancer usually involves the removal of both ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the uterus, the adjacent lymph nodes and the omentum (the obdominal fatty tissue).
- Chemotherapy. To ensure that any remaining cancer cells are destroyed, chemotherapy follows the surgery and includes various drug combinations.
- Radiation. Although conventional radiation is usually ineffective in ovarian cancer, external beam radiation therapy (EBCT) may be prescribed for the most advanced stages of the disease.