Ovarian cancer is cancer that begins in the ovaries. Ovaries are two oval glands located on each side of the uterus, under the entrance of the fallopian tubes. The functions of the ovaries are production of eggs and women’s sexual hormones, estrogen and progesterone.
Ovarian cancer was ranked the sixth most common cancer in Europe in 2012. One third of women may expect 5-year survival. However, this is associated to the stage of the ovarian cancer. The results are the poorest in advanced cases. As in most types of cases, various histological subtypes show different outcome and react differently to conventional and target therapies. The most common subtype is serous cancer, which is the most sensitive to chemotherapy.
There are three types of ovarian cancer, depending on the type of cell where the cancer begins:
- Epithelial tumours – the outside layer of the ovaries; this is most common; this type has five subgroups, the serous being the dominant
- Stromal tumours begin in the hormone-producing cells
- Germ cell tumours begin in the egg-producing cells
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are noticed when the cancer has advanced. The early stage of ovarian cancer does not show any symptoms.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are:
- Irritable bowel
- Abdominal bloating
- Feeling full even with small meals
- Weight loss
- Pain in the pelvis are
- Back pain
- Need for frequent urination
- Pain during sexual intercourse
The cause of the ovarian cancer is not quite known. It is known that cancer develops due to genetic mutation, when cells do not die when programmed, but rather multiply and form a mass of these cancerous cells into tumour.
The risk factors for developing ovarian cancer are:
- early menstruation
- menopause in older age
- long-term use of hormone-replacement therapy (although oral contraceptices may decrease the risk)
- never being pregnant
- fertility treatment
- endometriosis or ovary cysts
- diet rich in saturated fats
- previous breast cancer
- family history
- Intrauterine device
It is important to note that PAP test does not diagnose ovarian cancer. It has to tested with regular pelvic imaging and blood tests.
Prevention of ovarian cancer is not possible. There are no tests that can show early stage of ovarian cancer. However, the awareness of women and their doctors that abdominal distension as a frequent early symptom, may seem that more women can be diagnosed early, when the cancer can be cured. Women with high risk, as family history, should regularly visit gynecologist. Although there is no strong evidence, women should use the lowest dose of hormone replacement therapy and in short period after menopause. Other preventive measures are previous pregnancy, history of breast-feeding and daily use of aspirin.