Ovarian Cancer - Signs & Symptoms
Created by Ambili S Kartha Updated on Feb 04, 2020
Ovarian cancer refers to any cancerous growth that begins in the ovary. Do you know among the Gynecologic cancers, that is, cancer that affects the uterus, cervix, and ovaries, ovarian cancer has the highest rate of deaths? You need to know more about the signs and symptoms of this condition. Early detection increases the chances of successful treatment.
What is ovarian cancer?
Before explaining ovarian cancer, let us try to know more about ovaries. An ovary is one of two small, almond-shaped organs situated on both sides of the uterus. Ovary produces and stores eggs or ova. The ovaries mainly produce female hormones estrogen and progesterone. The ovaries are made up of 3 main kinds of cells;
- Surface Epithelium, the cells covering the outer surface of the ovaries
- Germ Cells, the cells that are intended to form eggs
- Stromal Cells, the cells that release hormones and hold the different structures of the ovary together
Ovarian cancer is cancer that affects any of the above-mentioned cells of the ovary. As there are three main types of cells, ovarian cancer is also broadly divided into three;
The tumor that starts from the epithelium. This is the most common type of ovarian tumor. More often the epithelial ovarian tumors are benign (noncancerous). However, if the tumor turns out to be cancerous, it is the most perilous form of ovarian cancers.
Germ cell tumors:
The tumor that starts from the reproductive cells. Most germ cell tumors are benign and if turns cancerous will be life-threatening. These tumors are uncommon and are seen most commonly in teens or young women. The good news is that with prompt treatment, around 90% of this type of cancer can be cured and most importantly, their fertility can be protected.
These are a relatively rare type of tumors that start from the stromal cells. The most common types are granulose cell tumors (GCT) and Sertoli-Leydig cell tumor. GCTs account for approximately 2 percent of all ovarian tumors. More often ovarian tumors will not have cancerous property and hence never spread outside the ovary. Removing either the ovary or the part of the ovary that contains the tumor will end the issue. However, if the tumor becomes cancerous, it can spread to other parts of the body and can be turn out to be fatal.
What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Most ovarian cancers start in the epithelium, or outer lining, of the ovary. In the early stages, there may be few or no symptoms. The signs and symptoms, when present, will be very vague. Symptoms may resemble those of other conditions as well. However, the early symptoms of ovarian cancer more often pursue a pattern. The symptoms start out of the blue without any particular cause and feel different than the normal digestive or menstrual problems. Also, it will persist rather than decreasing eventually as in the case of other causes.
Therefore, the persistence and gradual worsening of symptoms indicate the increased chance of ovarian cancer. Here are some of the signs that signal the chance of ovarian cancer. When these symptoms are persisting, even after normal treatments like diet change, exercise, intake of laxatives, taking plenty of rest, etc. it is very important for a woman to see her doctor without delay.
Early symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:
- Pain in the pelvis, the lower abdomen, or the lower part of the body
- Back pain
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary issues like increased urgency and frequency of urination
- Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
As cancer progresses, one could also experience:
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Unexplained weight loss
- Change in menstrual cycle
- Loss of appetite
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
Some exams and tests that are done for diagnosing ovarian cancer are:
Biopsy:A biopsy is the most accurate way to confirm ovarian cancer. This usually is done with a laparotomy, a procedure in which a surgeon makes an incision in the lower abdomen in order to (here) remove samples of the tumor. This sample is examined under a microscope and see if the cells are cancerous or just a tumor. Physical Exam: A physical exam includes a pelvic exam and Pap test. A pelvic exam would reveal ovarian lumps or pain that point out the chances of ovarian cancer
Ultrasound:A pelvic and transvaginal ultrasound is performed to examine the ovarian lump thoroughly
CA-125 test:If the doctor doubts ovarian cancer, he will proceed with a CA-125 test. CA-125 or Cancer antigen 125 refers to a protein found on the exterior of many ovarian cancer cells. A CA-125 test helps to find the amount of this protein in the blood. And this test will, therefore, can be used to confirm ovarian cancer
CT scans:A pelvic or abdominal CT scan or MRI can determine how far the cancer is spreading
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