Your A-Z Guide to Ovarian Cancer

By Dr. Swasti in Cancer Care / Oncology

Feb 22 , 2018 | 3 min read

Ovarian cancer is amongst the five most common cancers in women, with hardly any symptoms in its early stage and is often diagnosed after the cancer cells have spread to the pelvis and stomach. Also, ovarian cancer symptoms are often similar to other common conditions like (IBS) irritable bowel syndrome. Though cancer of the ovaries is rare, it causes more deaths in women than any other gynecologic cancer.

We at Max Healthcare, take pride in being labelled as one of the best cancer hospitals in India and would like to spread awareness about ovarian cancer. Here is everything that you need to know about ovarian cancer – its symptoms, risk factors, treatments, stages and prognosis.

Know About the Risk Factors

Dr. Swasti, Consultant - Gyne Oncology, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Vaishali says that the root cause of this cancer is still under research; however, the factors that increase the chances of developing ovarian cancer include:

  • Your risk of ovarian cancer increases if any of your first or second-degree relative have had ovarian cancer in the past
  • Family history of breast or colorectal cancer
  • You are at risk if you are obese or overweight
  • If you have experienced early menstruation or late menopause
  • If you are above the age of 65
  • History of estrogen or hormone therapy intake after menopause
  • If you have a history of getting treated for any other cancer including uterine, colorectal, and breast cancer
  • If you have never had any full-term pregnancy and have never breastfed
  • If you have undergone an infertility treatment for more than one year
  • If you have endometriosis, the chances of developing ovarian cancer increase

Know About the Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

As stated earlier, ovarian cancer symptoms typically resemble that of any other disease; thus, are often overlooked. However, if they persist longer and become worse over the time, seeking consultation should not be delayed. Symptoms include:

  • Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain, especially in the lower part
  • Urgency to urinate and frequent urination
  • Frequent bloating and feeling of fullness even after small meals
  • Constipation or upset stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea, breathlessness and tiredness
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Heartburn
  • Severe back pain

When is the Right Time to Visit the Doctor?

If any of these symptoms last for more than two weeks, getting a diagnosis at the earliest is recommended to identify the root cause of these abnormalities. Even if you think it is unlikely for you to have ovarian cancer, there is no harm to get yourself checked. Despite that, if the symptoms still persist even after negative test results go back to your specialist and get them checked once again.

Things to Keep in Mind During the Appointment

  • Note down the frequency of the symptoms, when they started and the severity
  • Keep a note of everything that triggers the symptoms
  • Inform the doctor about your concern towards cancer
  • Let your doctor know about the history of cancer in your family
  • If you do not understand anything that the doctor says, never hesitate in asking again
  • Take note of everything that the doctor says
  • Ask a friend to come along – they can add a few questions and help you in remembering what the doctor has advised
  • Tell your doctor about any cancer history that you may have

Ovarian Cancer – Types

Epithelial Ovarian Tumors – This tumour grows from the cells that cover the superficial layer of the ovary or the fallopian tube.
Germ cell Ovarian Tumors –These tumours grow from the egg-producing cells (ova) and are mostly non-cancerous. It can occur at any age and is responsible for roughly 5% of ovarian cancer cases.
Sex cord-stromal cell Ovarian Tumors – These are a rare class of tumours that grow from the connective tissue that grips the ovary together and produces female hormones – progesterone and estrogen. 

What are the Stages of Ovarian Cancer?

Staging refers to the extent to which cancer has spread to other tissues and organs. In ovarian cancer, the stage is usually evaluated by the surgeon during the surgery. The stages include:

Stage 1 Cancer has not spread anywhere and is only limited to the ovaries
Stage 2  Cancer has spread to the pelvic organs and the uterus
Stage 3 Cancer has spread to the lining tissues of the abdomen or lymph nodes
Stage 4 It has spread to distant sites like lungs or liver

Ovarian Cancer – Treatment Options

Surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy are mainly involved in ovarian cancer treatment.

Surgery works well in most of the cases. In younger women with early-stage disease, removal of the uterus, one ovary and tube may be possible to preserve fertility.
When cancer has metastasized, chemotherapy is the next step to remove cancer cells from the body. The drugs in chemotherapy are introduced to the patient’s body either through oral medication or IV
Hormone therapy employs hormone-blocking drugs to fight ovarian stromal tumours
Unlike chemotherapy, the drugs in targeted therapy directly attack the cancer cells; thus, causing less harm to the healthy ones.