Ovarian Cancer

Overview and Statistics

Ovarian cancer is the growth of cancerous, malignant cells originating in the ovaries. Malignant cancer cells can metastasize, or spread, either to other organs in the pelvis and abdominal region or through the bloodstream or lymph nodes to other parts of the body. According to statistics published by the American Cancer Society and the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 22,240 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2013, more than 60% of which are expected to be fatal.

According to data, ovarian cancer mortality rates have shown little improvement throughout the years, especially in comparison to other forms of cancer. This is largely due to the lack of early detection and diagnostic tests, as well as the general elusiveness of ovarian cancer. Ovarian Cancer is the 10th most common cancer affecting women, and the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women.

Causes, Symptoms & Diagnosis

There is no definitive cause for ovarian cancer. While it is not clear what causes this disease, medical science has discovered that cancer generally begins when healthy cells acquire a mutation that causes abnormal cells to grow and spread rapidly. As these cancerous cells multiply and accumulate, they form a tumor, which can metastasize throughout the body. Depending on the type of cell from which the cancerous tumors originate, ovarian cancer may be classified as epithelial tumors (the most common), germ cell carcinoma tumors, or stromal carcinoma tumors.

  • Epithelial - These are cancerous cells that develop in the epithelium, the layer of tissue covering the ovaries. Epithelial tumors account for roughly 90% of ovarian cancers and are most common among postmenopausal women.
  • Germ cell carcinoma - These are cancerous cells that begin in egg-producing cells. Germ cell carcinoma tumors make up approximately five percent of ovarian cancer cases and are most often found in younger women.
  • Stromal carcinoma - These are cancerous cells that originate in the ovarian tissue that produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.

While ovarian cancer was once referred to as a "silent killer" characterized by a lack of signs and symptoms, modern medical science has found particular links to certain symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal pressure, swelling, or bloating
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Difficulty eating, including indigestion or nausea
  • Urgent or frequent urination

In early stages, signs and symptoms may not be apparent at all or may only be mild in nature. Such symptoms are also common to many other less-serious medical conditions and disorders, further complicating accurate diagnoses. While such adverse symptoms are always relevant and should always be brought to the attention of a medical professional, they are not a definitive diagnostic tool. Symptom awareness is vital to early detection and diagnosis, as most women with ovarian cancer do experience symptoms. Medical professionals can explore the underlying cause of these signs by ruling out other conditions and by conducting various tests, including pelvic examinations, ultrasounds, and blood tests, among others.

Women who notice these and other abnormal symptoms should consult a medical professional, particularly a gynecologist. Preemptive medical screening can increase the chances of early detection at the earliest stage of the disease. The fact remains, however, that ovarian cancer lacks definitive screening tools, such as pap tests for cervical cancer and mammograms for breast cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Stages

Ovarian cancer is staged according to how far the cancer has spread. The stage of cancer helps medical professionals determine the prognosis and available treatment options. The stages are as follows:

  • Stage I - cancer is found in one or both ovaries
  • Stage II - cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread to other structures in the pelvis
  • Stage III - cancer has spread to the abdominal lining beyond the pelvis, or to lymph nodes
  • Stage IV - cancer has spread from one or both ovaries to organs such as the liver or lungs

Treatment Options

Various treatment options are available and should always be fully explored and evaluated with the assistance of a doctor. Surgical options focus primarily on tumor debulking, or the removal of tumors and cancerous cells. As ovarian cancer spreads throughout reproductive organs, the ovaries, fallopian tubes, nearby lymph nodes, and uterus may be removed. Hysterectomy, the removal of the uterus, is a common surgical approach to treating patients with ovarian cancer. Surgeries may also be complemented with chemotherapy, drug treatment, radiation therapy, and other options or clinical trials.

As ovarian cancer is a common reason for a hysterectomy, all women who have been diagnosed with this disease should fully explore their available options, including ways in which this invasive, serious procedure can potentially be avoided. Hysterectomy.com is a comprehensive resource that aims to educate women and the general public about hysterectomy surgery, alternatives, and about the importance of awareness, detection, early diagnosis and intervention. If you wish to find more information regarding hysterectomy and ovarian cancer, please fill out a contact form.