Aug 08, 2021
Did you know that women have a 1 in 78 chance of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime? It should be no wonder, then, that 21,410 women receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis each year.
Ovarian cancer starts in the ovaries. The ovaries are female reproductive organs responsible for producing eggs and hormones. Ovarian cancer can spread from the ovaries to other regions, including the abdomen and pelvis.
It’s critical to treat ovarian cancer before it metastasizes. Allowing ovarian cancer cells to leave the ovaries can make a full recovery less likely. Plus, advanced ovarian cancer can lead to further complications like fertility loss.
Are you wondering: do I have ovarian cancer? Then you need to look out for the early signs and symptoms. Keep reading for everything you need to know about ovarian cancer, signs you might have it, and your treatment options.
There are over 30 different types of ovarian cancer. Each type gets its name from the location in the body where the tumor originates.
Here are the most common types of ovarian cancer.
Epithelial tumors make up 85–90% of ovarian cancers.
Epithelial tissues line the entire body, protect hollow organs and cavities, and make up hormone-producing glands. Epithelial cells also cover the ovaries. Ovarian cancer originates from these cells.
Only 2% of all cases originate from germ cells.
Germ cells are precursors to gametes. Gametes are also known as egg and sperm cells. Germ cell ovarian cancer starts in egg-producing germ cells.
Unlike other types of ovarian cancer, germ cell tumors are more common in young women and teens. And the good news is that germ cell tumors tend to only affect one ovary. This can improve the ability to maintain fertility.
Stomal tumors are the least common type of ovarian cancer of these three. It makes up less than 1% of all diagnosed cases of ovarian cancer.
Stroma is connective cells binding organs to epithelial tissues. Stroma also surrounds the ovaries, where its job is to produce hormones. This is also where stromal tumors begin.
Vaginal bleeding is a sign of a stromal tumor and the reason why many stromal cancers are caught early on. If you’re post-menopausal, vaginal bleeding may be a sign of this cancer type.
50% of diagnoses occur in women over the age of 63. This type of cancer also tends to occur more commonly in white than black women. Also, obesity may be a risk factor, though we need more research to learn why.
Gene mutations to breast cancer genes 1 and 2 cause a small number of ovarian cancer cases each year. Similarly, having two or more close relatives who had ovarian cancer confers a higher risk.
Women who have undergone long-term or high-dose estrogen HRT (hormone replacement therapy), women who start their periods early in life, and women who start menopause late in life are at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.
Cancer of the ovaries can be difficult to catch because it’s often symptomless. The following signs usually begin to arise when the tumor metastasizes (spreads to other tissues in the body).
Bloating and/or swelling of the abdomen is an early-stage symptom. But it’s also the most common sign of advanced ovarian cancer.
Bloating occurs when the tumor starts to irritate the inside of the abdominal wall. The stomach responds by producing a fluid, which leads to bloating.
Fluid buildup can also result from cancer cells spreading to the liver or lymphatic system, both of which also produce fluid as a response to foreign irritants.
When the fluid then leaks from the liver or lymphatic system into the stomach, bloating may occur.
It can cause weight gain and/or weight loss as a symptom.
A primary reason for weight loss is that it often causes loss of appetite. And losing the desire for food commonly leads to unintentional weight loss.
Some women with ovarian tumors also experience weight gain, especially if the tumor is large. Constipation — a common sign of ovarian cancer — is another cause of weight gain. Normal digestion can’t occur when you’re constipated.
When an ovarian tumor gets large enough, it may begin to press against nearby organs like the intestines and colon. This is why many people experience constipation.
The pressure can also lead to issues with the pelvis and lower belly. For example, belly pain or an upset stomach are often ovarian cancer symptoms. Pain during intercourse is yet another sign you may have an ovarian tumor.
Cancerous tumors release hormones. And these hormones can interfere with our body’s natural hormone signaling.
One result of this hormone disruption is that your satiety cues (which make us feel full after a meal) may be thrown out of whack.
You might start feeling full when you haven’t eaten much. Another sign is if you lose your appetite altogether.
Ovarian tumors may also press against the bladder. When this happens, you may feel like you have to go all the time, leading to frequent urination.
Treatment varies depending on how advanced the cancer is, the type of ovarian cancer, and the tumor’s size.
Oncologists’ primary treatment recommendation for ovarian cancer is surgery. The surgeon can remove the tumor. Then, you’ll likely undergo chemotherapy, which will kill off any remaining cells surgery couldn’t address.
Sometimes, it comes back after treatment. Unfortunately, this happens in about 70% of cases. Symptoms of a re-occurring ovarian tumor include:
The best way to avoid a relapse is to reduce your risk factors and attend all follow-up appointments with your doctor.
It doesn’t always present with symptoms until more advanced stages. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the above signs of a tumor on your ovaries.
Do you have more questions about the symptoms of ovarian cancer? Oncopower is a convenient app allowing you to connect with an oncologist whenever, wherever you’re located. Register for Oncopower today!