Ovarian Cancer: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Diagnosis, Treatment, Outlook and Prevention

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Illustration of ovarian cancer

1Overview

Ovaries are found in the pelvic region of a female, it is also a source of hormones like the progesterone and estrogen. Aside from hormones, the ovaries produce female eggs that are needed for the reproduction.

In ovarian cancer, the cancer cells can grow on either of the layers of the ovaries like epithelial tumors that originate from the outer layer or the epithelial layer. Germ cell tumors grow in the cells that are responsible for producing eggs and the last type is the stromal tumors that are found in the layer which the female hormones are produced.

The tumors are most likely benign or non-cancerous and can be treated by the removal of the ovary which the tumor is present. In some cases, the tumor can also progress into a cancerous state that special treatments are needed to eradicate the abnormal cells in the ovaries.

2Types

Stromal Ovarian cancers

Since the stromal cells are the ones responsible for producing estrogen and progesterone, the symptoms are as similar as having a menstrual period. The only difference is that once the tumor grows, it invades the normal tissue around causing it to bleed. Hence, pain is felt along the pelvic area and can radiate into the abdominal cavity.

There are different types of stromal tumors like Thecomas and Fibromas as tumors that are usually not cancerous. Granulosa-theca and Sertoli-Leydig cell tumors belong in the low-grade classification while Granulosa cell tumors are the most common type of tumor.

Germ cells tumors

Most of the tumors found in the germ cell layer are very rare, about less than 2 percent, but the survival rate of a person having a type of ovary cancer is high. There are also subtypes of the germ cell tumors like:

Dysgerminomas

This is the most common type of germ cell tumor that is common among young girls.
This tumor grows or spreads slowly thus making it easier to remove without any complications and a higher prognosis is seen among patients who have this type of tumor.

Endothermal sinus tumors

This type of tumor usually affects young girls, and this has the characteristic that can spread rapidly to the other parts of the reproductive system if undiagnosed.
The tumor cells are known to be sensitive to treatments especially chemotherapy.

Choriocarcinomas

This is a sarcoma that is found in the placenta of the mother during pregnancy. The treatment that is used is chemotherapy.

Teratomas

The mature teratomas are the benign type of tumor, an example of it it’s the dermoid cyst. The immature teratomas are the ones that are the cancerous type which occurs in young girls below 18 years old.

Epithelial Tumors

This is the type of ovarian cancer that has most cases recorded. About 90 percent of the cases have this type and tends to spread to the nearest parts of the body usually the lining of the abdomen and pelvis.

3Symptoms

There are early signs that can be felt by a woman who had developed ovarian cancer like:

  • Unusual pain felt in the pelvic region
  • Abdominal bloating and pressure is also present especially after eating
  • Loss of appetite or even difficulty in eating because of the discomfort in the abdominal area.
  • Polyuria is also an early sign because of the tumor that is growing on the ovaries, an increase in size is also apparent thus adding pressure to the urinary bladder causing discomfort to the patient.

In some cases, fatigue, heartburn, back pain, irregular cycles of menstruation and painful intercourse can also be present. A regular check-up should be done to monitor if the symptoms are a sign of cancer or other problems in the reproductive system.

4Causes

The cells that have mutated and grow rapidly causes the tumors to form, but the exact reason or cause why the cells have mutated is not yet known to the researchers. Some risk factors are linked to increasing the chances of developing ovarian cancer.

5Risk Factors

Having one of these risk factors does not guarantee a person will have ovarian cancer instantly. In determining the exact factor which causes the cancer is hard enough to pinpoint because of the unforeseen factors. Here are some of the common risk factors that are linked to ovarian cancer.

Obesity

Obesity has been connected to different types of illnesses including cancers. Obesity in women can have a great impact on their health and can lead to more serious complications.

Reproductive History

Women who have their pregnancy on or before the age of 25 are more likely to have a lower risk of having ovarian cancer than those women who had their pregnancy during their late 30’s.

Those who opt not to have children have a higher risk of developing tumors in the ovaries. Researchers found out that breastfeeding can lower the chances of having reproductive problems.

Age

Ages 40 years old and above or after menopause, the body of the woman changes thus putting them at risk of having ovarian cancer.

Surgeries that involve the reproductive organs

Tubal ligation and hysterectomy are surgeries that involve the reproductive system. These procedures can also decrease the chances of having ovary cancer.

Fertility drugs

Using fertility drugs can increase the risk of a woman to have tumors in their ovaries. If you are opting to use fertility drugs, make sure to consult a physician to know the risks them.

Family history

Those whose relatives have a history of having breast cancer, colorectal and ovarian cancer can increase the chances that other family members can acquire these types of cancers.

6Diagnosis

Ovarian cancer can be hard to detect by a simple physical examination but once it is detected using different procedures and tests it can be easily treated. The doctor will conduct a pelvic exam that can help detect lumps and pain within the area of the pelvis. There are other ways on how to diagnose ovarian cancer by using this procedure:

CT scan

Abdominal scan and also pelvic exam is ordered to view the organs that are within the region.

Blood test

Some biomarkers can detect ovarian cancer and that is the Cancer antigen 125 (CA-125).

Biopsy

Removing a small part of the tissue that will be the specimen. It will be sent to the lab for further testing.

Ultrasound

Transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS), it allows the doctor to see and view the pelvic area.

7Treatment

Surgery

This is done to remove the part of the ovaries or sometimes the lymph nodes where the tumor is. The nearby organs can also be removed from the lymph nodes and the fallopian tubes just to be sure that there are no cancer cells left.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses a chemical that is introduced into the patient. The chemicals then target the cancerous cells, while the patient is undergoing the cycles, they may experience adverse reactions to loss of hair and nausea and vomiting

Radiation

Just like X-rays, it used beams that can destroy cancer cells within the body and also stops the spread of the abnormal cells.

Targeted therapy and hormonal therapy

These therapies also can help the other treatment to maximize the effect and eradication of the abnormal cells and tumors.

8Outlook

The survival rate of ovarian cancer is high compared to other forms of cancer and also we should consider the overall health of the patient.

At least a 5-year survival rate of the patient is guaranteed if the cancer is diagnosed and detected in the early stages.

The survival rate for stage 2 ovarian cancer is about 70 percent, stage 3 ovarian cancer has a prognosis of about 40 percent and for those who are diagnosed with the late stage cancer, the chances are already below 20 percent for the survival rate. Although there are different ways to detect ovarian cancer, researchers are still finding ways to have faster detection when it comes to cancers.

9Prevention

There is no definite way to prevent ovarian cancer but there are ways to reduce the risk of having one like:

Taking oral contraceptives

Taking birth control pills can reduce the risk of having ovarian cancer especially those who have been taking it for more than five years. Take note that you should consult first your physician to have a physical examination and to discuss the pros and cons of taking birth control pills.

Surgical procedure

Removing the ovaries or with the fallopian tubes can lower the risk of a woman according to studies. It is common among women whose ages are over 40 years old.

Balanced diet

Eating healthy foods will help the body defend itself against illness and cancers. Fruits and vegetables and foods rich in vitamins will be good to add to your grocery lists.

Healthy lifestyle

Exercise daily can boost the immune system. Enter into sports or recreational activities that can help you build your resistance against illnesses.

Have regular check-ups

A visit to your doctor can be a good thing to prevent illnesses. The doctor may also recommend vitamins to keep yourself healthy.

BRCA gene test

If your family has a history of cancer, you can opt to have yourself undergo this test to see if you have the biomarker for ovarian cancer.