The ovariesThe ovaries are part of a woman's reproductive system. They are in the pelvis. Each ovary is about the size of an almond.
The ovaries make the female hormones -- estrogen and progesterone. They also release eggs. An egg travels from an ovary through a fallopian tube to the womb (uterus).
When a woman goes through her "change of life" (menopause), her ovaries stop releasing eggs and make far lower levels of hormones.
Ovarian CancerOvarian cancer usually happens in women over age 50, but it can also affect younger women. Its cause is unknown. Ovarian cancer is hard to detect early.
The sooner ovarian cancer is found and treated, the better your chance for recovery. But ovarian cancer is hard to detect early. Many times, women with ovarian cancer have no symptoms or just mild symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage and hard to treat.
Symptoms may include: -
- Heavy feeling in pelvis
- Pain in lower abdomen
- Bleeding from the vagina
- Weight gain or loss
- Abnormal periods
- Unexplained back pain that gets worse
- Gas, nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite
Risk factorsDoctors cannot always explain why one woman develops ovarian cancer and another does not. However, we do know that women with certain risk factors may be more likely than others to develop ovarian cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of developing a disease.
Studies have found the following risk factors for ovarian cancer: -
- Family history of cancer
- Personal history of cancer
- Age over 55
- Never pregnant
- Menopausal hormone therapy
Ovarian Cancer SymptomsSymptoms that come later include the following: -
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Pain with intercourse
- Abdominal swelling and bloating
- Urinary frequency
- Ascites - Collection of fluid in the abdomen, contributing to abdominal distension and shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling full after eating little
- Gas and/or diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abnormalities in menstruation, pubertal development, and abnormal hair growth (with tumors that secrete hormones)
DiagnosisIf you have a symptom that suggests ovarian cancer, your doctor must find out whether it is due to cancer or to some other cause. Your doctor may ask about your personal and family medical history.
You may have one or more of the following tests.
Your doctor can explain more about each test: -
- Physical exam
- Pelvic exam
- Blood tests
A pathologist uses a microscope to look for cancer cells in the tissue or fluid. If ovarian cancer cells are found, the pathologist describes the grade of the cells. Grades 1, 2, and 3 describe how abnormal the cancer cells look. Grade 1 cancer cells are not as likely as to grow and spread as grade 3 cells.
TreatmentMany women with ovarian cancer want to take an active part in making decisions about their medical care. It is natural to want to learn all you can about your disease and treatment choices. Knowing more about ovarian cancer helps many women cope.
Shock and stress after the diagnosis can make it hard to think of everything you want to ask your doctor. It often helps to make a list of questions before an appointment. To help remember what your doctor says, you may take notes or ask whether you may use a tape recorder. You may also want to have a family member or friend with you when you talk to your doctor-to take part in the discussion, to take notes, or just to listen.
You do not need to ask all your questions at once. You will have other chances to ask your doctor or nurse to explain things that are not clear and to ask for more details.
Your doctor may refer you to a gynecologic oncologist, a surgeon who specializes in treating ovarian cancer. Or you may ask for a referral. Other types of doctors who help treat women with ovarian cancer include gynecologists, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists. You may have a team of doctors and nurses.
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