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Understanding Ovarian Cancer

  • Category: Women's Health
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Anne Rodriguez, MD
Understanding Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries (or surrounding structures), which are the organs of the female reproductive system that produce, store, and release egg cells. Most ovarian cancers are known as “epithelial ovarian carcinomas.”

Risk Factors For Ovarian Cancer

The following factors can increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer:

  • Increasing age
  • Infertility, never having children, or having a first pregnancy after age 35
  • Hormone replacement with estrogen alone (without progesterone)
  • Having other family members with ovarian cancer, colon cancer, or uterine cancer, particularly HNPCC or Lynch syndromes
  • Having a family or personal history of breast cancer or a breast cancer mutation, particularly BRCA1 or BRCA2
  • Having an Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
  • Having a personal history of endometriosis
  • Smoking

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer, particularly early on, can be asymptomatic. When symptoms do occur, they can include the following:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding (especially if you are postmenopausal) or vaginal discharge
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Abdominal, back, or pelvic pain
  • Gastrointestinal concerns such as bloating, nausea, or appetite decrease
  • Urinary symptoms such as pain, difficulty urinating, or feeling like you constantly need to urinate

Diagnosis Of Ovarian Cancer

There is no standardized screening for ovarian cancer. However, healthcare providers do encourage regular pelvic exams, because these can detect abnormal masses or changes in your ovaries. If you are at high risk for ovarian cancer because of a genetic condition or a family history of ovarian cancer, your healthcare provider can monitor you using periodic ultrasound evaluations or a specific blood test known as the CA-125 test. Ovarian cancer is typically diagnosed by looking at the specific cells of the ovary or related structures, through a tissue sample known as a biopsy.

Treatments For Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is typically treated with surgery and chemotherapy. Other treatment options include radiation, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy. Oftentimes, various treatment types will be combined. Your healthcare team will decide which treatment pathway is best for you based on your health history and the nature of your particular cancer. Once you have been treated for ovarian cancer, you will continue being monitored by your healthcare provider to prevent cancer recurrence.