Ovarian Cancer (Malignant Tumor of the Ovaries)

Definition

Ovarian cancers are malignant tumors arising from one or both ovaries in females. It usually presents with non-specific symptoms like abdominal fullness, bloating or changes in bowel habits. Like other cancers the exact cause of ovarian cancer is not known, however, family history of cancer and increasing age are common risk factors for developing ovarian cancer.

Worldwide ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women and the most common cause of death in women suffering from cancer of reproductive organs. Depending upon the cells of origin ovarian cancer is classified into several types. Treatment option includes combination of surgery and administration of anticancer drugs.


Symptoms

The symptoms of ovarian cancer often mimic other common diseases therefore in most of the cases the disease is diagnosed at an advanced stage. The common presenting symptoms are :

  • Feeling of abdominal fullness.
  • Loss of appetite or feeling of fullness after small amount of food.
  • Heaviness felt in the lower abdomen area.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Back pain.
  • Irregular menstrual cycle, often associated with spotting.
  • Sudden growth of coarse hair.
  • Weakness.
  • Weight loss.

The disease often spread to other organs leading to :

  • Altered bowel habits.
  • Patient needs to urinate more frequently.
  • Abdominal distension due to fluid accumulation (ascites).

The disease is often fatal due to diagnosis at a late stage.

Causes

The exact cause of ovarian cancer is not known. However, like other cancers there is a sudden, unexpected and irreversible change in the genetic material which affects cell growth. New cells are produced in the body replacing the old cells by the process of cell division and older cells are removed from the body by the process of programmed cell death known as apoptosis. Both cell division and apoptosis are tightly regulated by various factors. It is the abnormal activity of these factors that can lead to cancer.

Ovaries are two small organs located in the pelvis of females, on either side of the uterus. Fallopian tubes are the conduits connecting the ovaries to the uterus. Ovaries are the principal organs for producing the female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, and are also responsible for production of egg cells which after being fertilized by the sperm develop into fetus.

Risk factors

  • Certain mutations in gene known as BRCA runs in families and increase the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Similarly inherited colon cancer (HNPCC) may increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Prior history of cancer.
  • Advanced age.
  • Never having children in life.
  • Exposure to asbestos and radiation.
  • Caucasian women are at a greater risk.

Types

Ovarian cancers are of different types depending upon the nature of the cells from which cancer originates.

  • Epithelial tumor (most common variety) arising from the lining of the ovaries.
  • Stromal tumor arising from the supporting tissues of the ovary.
  • Germ cell tumor arising from the cells that produce the ovum.

Ovarian cancer may occur due to spread of cancer from other organs like colon, breast, stomach and lungs among other sites.

Treatment

The treatment of ovarian cancer does not differ significantly from other cells. It focuses on removing the tumor and destroying cancer cells.

  • Surgery to remove the ovaries along with uterus and fallopian tubes adjacent to the lymph nodes and the fold of abdominal tissue known as the omentum. Less extensive surgery may be done in early stages.
  • Anticancer drugs given through veins or directly in the abdomen.
  • Radiation therapy to destroy the cancer.

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