It is a frightening fact that somewhere around 1.5 percent of all women will develop ovarian cancer during their life. Although it is not as common as breast cancer, it is still considered to be the most serious and potentially fatal of all of the gynecological cancers. Unfortunately this type of cancer is usually in advanced stages before it is diagnosed and this makes treatment difficult. Since the ovaries are not easily examined and the warning signs are not clear, it is common for a late diagnosis. Because there is a lack of screening tests, it is essential to be familiar with the early symptoms and understand the possible risk factors.
The ovaries are a part of the female reproductive system and they are located on each side of the uterus. The ovaries produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone. There are two types of tumors that can affect the ovaries, benign or malignant. If the tumor is benign, it is not non-cancerous or non-malignant and therefore, it does not spread to any other parts of the body. A cancerous or malignant tumor will often spread (metastasizes), creating secondary cancerous tumors.
Ovarian cancer is definitely malignant and can occur in one or both of the ovaries.
Epithelial ovarian cancer mainly affects postmenopausal women and grows in the surface of the ovary. It is the most common type of ovarian cancer, accounting for around 90 percent of the ovarian cancers. A borderline tumor is another kind of epithelial tumor. It grows much slower than its regular counterpart. These can normally be surgically removed, even if there are diagnosed at an advanced stage. Germ cell is a very rare form of ovarian cancer. It begins in the cells that develop into eggs. Sex-chord stromal cell ovarian cancer affects the ovary cells that are responsible for female hormones.
The actual cause of ovarian cancer is not known but there are certain risk factors that research has identified. Although by actually having any of these risk factors may increase your chances of ovarian cancer, it does not guarantee that you will get the disease. By having knowledge of these risk factors, it can prove helpful. If you are the slightest bit concerned that you may have any of the risk factors, it is imperative to see your doctor.
Some of the common risk factors of ovarian cancer include:
-Most ovarian cancers affect women over 40.
-Caucasian women have higher rates.
-Women who have never been pregnant have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
If you have any family history of any breast, endometrial, colon cancer or ovarian cancer, you may have a higher risk of getting ovarian cancer. Women who have had fertility drugs may be at a higher risk although infertility itself is a risk factor so this cannot be taken as a clear indication. The use of estrogen only HRT (post hysterectomy) has been identified as a possible risk factor for ovarian cancer, particularly if you have been on this therapy for over ten years. Obesity is a risk factor associated with ovarian cancer, as is a diet that is high in fat.
Can the Risks of ovarian cancer be Reduced?
Unfortunately, at the present time, no known procedures exist to prevent or detect early ovarian cancer but there are ways to reduce the risks. Research has found that using oral contraceptives can cut the risk of ovarian cancer if taken for a period of five years during your life. Breastfeeding delays ovulation after childbirth and therefore decreases your risk of ovarian cancer. A high fat diet has been identified as a risk factor in ovarian cancer. Tubal ligation or hysterectomy both reduces the risk of ovarian cancer. People with a strong family history of ovarian cancer may opt to speak to a genetic counselor. You may be referred to a gynecological oncologist to consider ways to reduce your risk.
There are no screening tests currently available for ovarian cancer; it is recommended that you have a regular pelvic and vaginal exam to see if there are any changes in your ovaries. It is also vital that you consult your healthcare specialist if you notice any possible signs of this illness. Many of the symptoms of ovarian cancer closely resemble other medical conditions, making diagnosis of ovarian cancer difficult.
In the event you experience any of the associated symptoms and they are unusual for you, especially if they persist for more than a week, you must see your doctor without delay.
Some of the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer may include: Stomach discomfort of pain in the pelvic area, persistent nausea, feeling constantly bloated, unexplained weight gain, loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss, bowel changes, frequency or urgency in urination, lethargy, pain during intercourse and unexplained vaginal bleeding.
If your doctor is suspicious of ovarian cancer, he/she will refer you to an oncologist, specializing in gynecology, who will order tests some or all of the following: An internal pelvic examination, Blood tests, Chest and stomach x-rays, a barium enema to rule out bowel problems and Ultrasound scans.
If the test results indicate there is evidence of ovarian cancer, you will be advised to have surgery to confirm the diagnosis, since none of the above mentioned tests are 100 % accurate. If the surgeon finds ovarian cancer, he/she will normally remove the cancer and the ovaries and check to determine if the cancer has spread. Before the surgery, it is important that you understand what will be done, depending on the findings and to learn all you can about your illness and the anticipated results before the operation.