Ovarian Cancer

Definition of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer may be defined as a disease where normal ovarian cells begin to multiply in such an abnormal manner that it is uncontrollable. This leads to the growth of tumors in one or both ovaries. Women have two ovaries, one on either side of the uterus. The ovaries — each about the size of an almond — produce eggs (ova) as well as the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. An ovarian tumor is a growth of abnormal cells that may be either noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Although benign tumors are made up of abnormal cells, these cells don't spread to other body tissues (metastasize). Ovarian cancer cells metastasize in one of two ways. Generally, they spread directly to adjacent tissue or organs in the pelvis and abdomen. They can also spread through your bloodstream or lymph channels to other parts of your body.


Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer in women in the U.S. with over 25,000 women newly diagnosed each year with this disease. It is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women and frequently does not result in symptoms until the cancer has spread extensively. Less than one-third of ovarian cancers are detected before they have spread outside of the ovaries.

Ovarian cancer is comprised of a group of different tumors that arise from diverse types of tissue contained within the ovary. The most common type of ovarian cancer arises from the epithelial cells (the outside layer of cells) of the surface of the ovary. Other, rare types of ovarian cancer develop from the egg-forming germ cells or from the supporting tissue (stroma) of the organ. Benign (non-cancerous) tumors and cysts are also found in the ovary and are much more common than ovarian cancers.

According to studies conducted by the American Cancer Society, an estimated 1 in every 56 women develop cancer in the ovary. Strangely this disease is seen to be more predominant in developed countries. A mammoth 26,000 new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed every year. Survival rates go up if the cancer is diagnosed early enough. Sadly though, most of the time, the disease is diagnosed well after it has spread to adjacent tissues and organs. Being aware of the early signs and symptoms is a good way of protecting yourself against this disease.

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Until recently it was believed that ovarian cancer had no early symptoms. It turns out there are symptoms of ovarian cancer but they are nonspecific and mimic those of many other more common conditions, including digestive and bladder disorders. A woman with ovarian cancer may be diagnosed with another condition before finally learning she has cancer. Common misdiagnoses include irritable bowel syndrome, stress, and depression.

The key seems to be persistent or worsening signs and symptoms. With most digestive disorders, symptoms tend to come and go, or they occur in certain situations or after eating certain foods. With ovarian cancer, there's typically little fluctuation — symptoms are constant and gradually worsen.

Recent studies have shown that women with ovarian cancer are more likely to consistently experience the following symptoms:

  • Bloating stomach
  • Abdominal pressure
  • Urinary urgency at all times
  • Pelvic discomfort or pain

However most of the symptoms for ovarian cancer cannot still be identified correctly till it is too late.  Usually ovarian cancer is not detected until 6 to 12 months. Some of the symptoms of ovarian cancer in the later stages of the disease are as follows:

  • Continuous bleeding from the vagina, after menopause especially if you are not using any hormonal medicines.
  • Constant pain in the pelvis.
  • Continuous cramps in the belly.
  • Discharge of mucus, tinged with blood from the vagina.
  • Pain or bleeding symptoms noticed during sex.
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss.
  • Feeling of a lump in your belly
  • Drastic changes in bowel habits from either diarrhea to constipation.

Types of Ovarian Cancer

There are more than 30 types and subtypes of ovarian cancer. Each of these types has its own diseased tissues, behavioral tendencies, and appearance. This has led to a grouping of all ovarian cancers into three major groups. This grouping is done on the basis of the kind of cells from which they have been formed. The types of groups of ovarian cancer are:

  • Germ cell tumors, which originate from cells that are supposed to form eggs inside the ovary.
  • Epithelial tumors are those which arise from cells that line or are found around the ovaries.

There are some other tumors which are formed adjacent to the ovarian tissues; this may classify them as ovarian cancer. Even the symptoms and treatment of such cases is very much like that of ovarian cancer.

Causes of Ovarian Cancer

Most research has failed to pin point the exact reason behind the occurrence of ovarian cancer. There have been however, some common tendencies identified in those diagnosed with the disease. This has led to a summing up of what might be some of the probable factors leading to ovarian cancer.

Age - Most cases of ovarian cancer are detected in women age 50 and up.

Childbearing - Women who have never given birth are more likely to develop ovarian cancer than those who have. The more children a woman has, the less likely she is to develop ovarian cancer.

Family history - As with most major diseases, the hereditary factor is very important for gauging the chances of developing ovarian cancer. Close relatives or the first degree relatives of a woman with ovarian cancer have the same chance of developing it. This chance is more serious if two or more first-degree relatives have the same disease. Physicians warn that a family history of breast or colon cancer may also be a probable cause of developing ovarian cancer.

Fertility drugs - Though still in its nascent stage of research, women who have taken doses of fertility drugs over long periods of time for the purpose of ovulation are prone to developing ovarian cancer.

A personal history - Women who have had breast or colon cancer are at greater risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Talc - Medical researchers believe the use of Talc by women over a prolonged period of time may also lead to ovarian cancer.

Hormone replacement therapy – There are plenty of other researchers who believe that women who have used hormone replacement therapy, especially after menopause, may have an increased risk.


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