What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer refers to any cancerous growth that begins in the ovary. This is the part of the female body that produces eggs.
Now it is the fifth most common cause of cancer-related death among females in the United States. That said, deaths from ovarian cancer have been falling in the U.S. over the past 2 decades, according to the American Cancer Society Trusted Source (ACS).
The ACS estimate that in 2019, around 22,530 people may receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Around 13,980 people are likely to die from this condition.
Most ovarian cancers start in the epithelium, or outer lining, of the ovary. In the early stages, there may be few or no symptoms.
If symptoms do occur, they can resemble those of other conditions, such as premenstrual syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, or a temporary bladder problem. However, in ovarian cancer, the symptoms will persist and worsen.
Early symptoms may include trusted Source:
- Pain or pressure in the pelvis
- Unexpected vaginal bleeding
- Pain in the back or abdomen
- Feeling full rapidly when eating
- Changes in urination patterns, such as more frequent urination
- Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
- If any of these symptoms last for 2 weeks or more, a person should see a doctor.
There may also be:
- Nausea and indigestion
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
- The symptoms can change if cancer spreads to other parts of the body
If a healthcare professional diagnoses ovarian cancer, they will need to determine the stage and grade to decide on a treatment plan.
The state trusted Source refers to how far cancer has spread. For example:
Localized: Cancer cells affect only the ovaries or fallopian tubes and have not spread elsewhere.
Regional: Cancer has spread to nearby organs, such as the uterus.
Distant: Cancer is present elsewhere in the body. It now affects other organs, such as the lungs or liver.
The grade, meanwhile, refers to how abnormal the cancer cells appear.
Getting an early diagnosis usually means that treatment can be more effective. However, other factors can affect this.
These factors include the person’s age and overall health and the type or grade of the cancer cell, as some types are more aggressive than others.
If a routine screening or symptoms suggest that a person may have ovarian cancer, a doctor will typically:
- Ask the person about their personal and family medical history
- Carry out a pelvic examination
They may also recommend:
Blood tests: These tests will check for high levels of a marker called CA-125.
Imaging Tests: Examples include transvaginal ultrasound, an MRI scan, or a CT scan.
Laparoscopy: A healthcare professional will insert a thin tube with a camera attached through a small hole in the abdomen, to see the ovaries and perhaps take a tissue sample for a biopsy.
Biopsy: This involves the microscopic examination of a tissue sample.
Only a biopsy can confirm that a person has cancer. A healthcare professional may do this as part of the initial assessment or following surgery to remove a tumour.