Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells in or around an ovary begin to grow uncontrollably. These cancerous cells form tumors that impede normal ovarian function and can apply pressure to or displace surrounding organs. This pressure can cause pain and discomfort as an early signal of ovarian cancer.
An ovary is one of the two small glands found on each side of a woman's uterus. They are responsible for producing eggs as well as estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are involved in reproductive development and regulate the menstrual cycle.
What are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
Many of the ovarian cancer symptoms are the same symptoms found in digestive disorders, urinary tract issues, and other reproductive system problems. The key to linking these symptoms to ovarian cancer is that they are persistent and do not resolve after a normal period of time. They may also be more severe. Though symptoms are more likely to occur in advanced ovarian cancer cases, some women may notice symptoms in early stages.
How is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?
The first step to diagnosis is a consultation with your primary physician. Your doctor will assess your symptoms and risk factors and likely do a pelvic exam. Ovarian cancer cannot be diagnosed with a pap test, but your physician can palpate your abdomen to check for enlarged ovaries or a mass elsewhere in the abdominal cavity.
If an issue is suspected, the next step if for the doctor to order imaging tests to confirm the presence of an abnormal pelvic mass. A vaginal ultrasound is one of the most common tests. A probe is inserted in the vagina, and sound waves are used to produce an image that can identify a solid mass verses a cyst filled with fluid. An ultrasound will also help the doctor to better determine the size of the mass.
Computed Tomography (CT) scans are also common. These x-rays provide cross section images and help to show whether tumors have spread to other organs in the body. They can identify enlarged lymph nodes and whether a mass is causing problems with your kidneys or bladder.
Your doctor may also order a CA-125 blood test. CA-125 is a protein that ovarian cancer cells produce. If an increase in this protein is found, it may indicate ovarian cancer. It is important to note, however, that some benign diseases of the ovaries also cause an increase in CA-125 levels, and some ovarian cancers do not produce enough CA-125 to cause a positive result.
If any of these tests are positive and suggest ovarian cancer is indicated, you will likely be referred to a gynecologic oncologist. This specialist will evaluate your test results, order more tests, and confirm the results with a biopsy.
A biopsy involves taking a sample of the tumor and examining it in a lab. For ovarian cancer, this is usually done after the tumor as been removed during surgery. It is occasionally done with a laparoscopic procedure, but generally only if the cancer is too advanced for surgical removal.
What Increases Your Risk of Ovarian Cancer?
What are the Different Types of Ovarian Cancer?
What are the Stages of Ovarian Cancer?
All cancer occurs in stages used to identify how much the cancer has spread throughout the body. The higher the stage, the more serious the cancer. Ovarian cancer occurs in four stages (I – IV) and three factors are used to determine the stage.
What is the Treatment for Ovarian Cancer?
Treatment is determined by the type of tumor and the stage of the spread. Local treatment usually involves surgical removal of the tumor or radiation therapy. Other treatments include chemotherapy and hormone therapy.
Ovarian cancer is highly treatable in early stages, but most ovarian cancer is not found until the later stages because symptoms tend to be milder. It is important to seek medical attention at the first signs of an issue because the chances of survival are greatly increased with early detection.