When ovarian cancers were first discovered, they were thought to originate in the ovary itself. Instead, after years of research, they have determined that many cases of ovarian cancer actually begin at the farthest point in the fallopian tubes away from the ovaries. Ovaries are the reproductive glands found only in females, and they produce eggs, or ova, which could be formed into a fetus at some point in time. Ovaries are also the main points for hormones in the female body, progesterone, and estrogen. Over 23,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the next year and over 14,000 of those will lose their battle with this terrible cancer.
There are three types of cells in the ovaries and each type can cause a different type of cancer. Epithelial tumors start from the cells that cover the outer part of the ovaries. Stromal cell tumors start from structural tissue cells that hold the ovary together and produce the female hormones. Germ cell tumors start from the cells that produce the egg. Each type of cancer has different stages and different treatment plans. Your medical care team will discuss which form of ovarian cancer you have after doing a biopsy.
Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer
There are certain risk factors that increase your chances of developing this type of cancer in your lifetime. Some of these risk factors are avoidable, and some are just part of growing older. They are:
- Getting Older
- Being Overweight or Obese
- Having children later in life or never having a full-term pregnancy
- Using fertility treatments to become pregnant
- Using hormone therapy
- Having a family history of cancer
- Smoking and alcohol use
Unstudied Risk Factors
- Talcum Powder
Two factors that have been linked to lowering the risk of ovarian cancer are birth control and previous pregnancy and childbirth.
Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer can cause several signs and symptoms before any diagnosis might come. While women are more likely to notice the symptoms as severe after cancer has spread, there is a good chance those who are in tune with their bodies could notice the changes taking place. If you notice any of the following symptoms, please consider checking in with your doctor. Early diagnosis is always best!
- pelvic or abdominal pain or discomfort
- trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- a change in your urinary frequency; more often or less often, with more or less urgency
- back pain
- pain during intercourse
- upset stomach
- sudden fatigue, or tiredness
- changes in your monthly menstrual cycle; or more or less bleeding than normal
- unusual belly or abdominal swelling
- abnormal weight loss
Tests for Ovarian Cancer
After your initial medical history and meeting with a specialist, you will have certain imaging tests set up to help determine which type of cancer you have and how it is best to treat you. These tests might be an ultrasound, CT scan, Barium enema X-ray, MRI scans, other x-rays, PET scans, and possible extra tests like biopsies, colonoscopies, and laparoscopies. Blood tests can be done to help determine which of these tests are needed for diagnosis.
Treatment methods for Ovarian Cancer
Depending on your type of cancer, the treatment method used could be done one of the following ways.
- Surgical intervention is the most common treatment for ovarian cancer. If the ovary or ovaries are not removed, excising to the clean margins will be the course of action. Certain surgeries can expect a four to seven-day hospital stay, with four to six weeks of recovery thereafter.
- Radiation Therapy uses high-energy x-ray particles to kill cancers in the body. While radiation can be helpful, it is not used as a sole treatment for ovarian cancer. It is most often combined with chemotherapy, and the two together can better get the job done. There are different types of radiation therapy, and once your doctor has confirmed the cancer type, can give you the details about the specific type of radiation you will need.
- Chemotherapy is a systemic approach with medication to treat cancer. Chemo comes in many forms and is taken now for many different reasons, cancers and ailments. Chemotherapy is not only used in cancer treatment but also to help deal with the progression of some life-long chronic illnesses like Scleroderma and Lupus. Chemotherapy for cancer treatment usually combines two drugs and are taken via IV infusion. Chemo does have a long list of side effects, and your doctor will give you pointers and tips on how to continue living with these side effects.
- Hormone therapy uses hormone-blocking drugs to help treat cancer. This is a systemic approach that does not treat certain types of ovarian cancer, like epithelial cell cancer, and is more often used to treat stromal cell ovarian cancers.
- Targeted therapy is a therapy where drugs and other chemicals are used to directly target the cancer tumors and attack and destroy them while leaving your normal and healthy cells alone. There are a handful of different types of targeted therapy, and with diagnosis, your doctor can give you the details on which will do you the most good.
- Specific Cell-type treatment therapies are done when the type of ovarian cancer is determined after biopsy and a specific course of action is planned to be taken. Your doctor will advise you if a special treatment plan like these are necessary to help kill your cancer.
Questions to Ask your Doctor about Ovarian Cancer
Getting a cancer diagnosis can be heavy news, and leave you reeling with more questions than not. Always write down your questions so you can be fully prepared to learn and educate yourself as much as you can. Knowledge is power, especially when fighting for your life!
What type of ovarian cancer do I have?
Has my cancer spread beyond the ovaries?
Will I need other tests before we can decide on treatment?
If I’m concerned about the costs and insurance coverage for my diagnosis and treatment, who can help me?
Will I be able to have children after my treatment?
What are my treatment options?
How much experience do you have treating this type of cancer?
How quickly do we need to decide on treatment?
What risks or side effects are there to the treatments you suggest?
How might treatment affect my daily activities? Can I still work full time?
What are the chances cancer will recur (come back) with these treatment plans?