Ovarian cancer is a cancerous growth of cells in the ovaries. The cells multiply rapidly and have the ability to invade and destroy healthy body tissue.
There are two ovaries in the female reproductive system, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries, which are about the size of an almond, are responsible for the production of eggs (ova) as well as the hormones oestrogen and progesterone.
Surgery and chemotherapy are commonly used to treat ovarian cancer.
When ovarian cancer first appears, there may be no noticeable symptoms. When symptoms of ovarian cancer appear, they are usually attributed to other, more common conditions.
Ovarian cancer symptoms and signs may include:
-Bloating or swelling in the abdomen
-Feeling full quickly after eating
-Loss of weight
-Pain in the pelvic region
-Constipation is an example of a change in bowel habits.
-Urge to urinate on a regular basis
Although it is unknown what causes ovarian cancer, doctors have identified factors that may increase the risk of the disease.
Ovarian cancer develops when cells in or near the ovaries undergo changes (mutations) in their DNA. The DNA of a cell contains the instructions that tell the cell what to do. The mutations instruct the cells to grow and multiply rapidly, resulting in a mass (tumour) of cancer cells. When healthy cells die, cancer cells continue to live. They have the ability to invade nearby tissues and break off from an initial tumour in order to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
Types of ovarian cancer
The type of cell where cancer begins determines the type of ovarian cancer you have and helps your doctor determine which treatments are best for you. Ovarian cancer types include:
Epithelial ovarian cancer – This type is the most common. It includes several subtypes, including serous carcinoma and mucinous carcinoma.
Stromal tumours – These rare tumours are usually diagnosed at an earlier stage than other ovarian cancers.
Germ cell tumours – These rare ovarian cancers tend to occur at a younger age.
There is no proof way to avoid ovarian cancer. However, there may be ways to mitigate your risk:
Take into account using birth control pills. Consult your doctor to see if birth control pills (oral contraceptives) are a good option for you. Using birth control pills lowers the risk of developing ovarian cancer. However, these medications do have risks, so consider whether the benefits outweigh the risks in your situation.
Consult your doctor about your risk factors. Inform your doctor if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Your doctor can tell you what this means for your own cancer risk. You may be referred to a genetic counsellor who can advise you on whether genetic testing is appropriate for you. If you are found to have a gene change that increases your risk of ovarian cancer, you may want to consider having your ovaries removed to prevent cancer.