Ovarian Cancer

What is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer is a specific type of cancer that only women get. It starts in the ovaries and can spread very quickly to the abdomen and pelvis regions. Ovaries are very small and it can be difficult to diagnosis ovarian cancer when it is still only in the ovaries. If detected early, it is much easier to treat.

Some factors like age (being over 40) and obesity are directly linked to a higher chance of developing this tumor, whereas reproductive history (particularly giving birth before age 26) and using oral contraceptives are connected to a lower risk of developing this form of tumor.

Gynecologic surgery (either tubes or uterus) also reduce the risk of getting this form of cancer, while using fertility drugs such as clomiphene citrate for more than a year can lead to a higher risk of ovarian cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?

One of the reasons that it is difficult to detect ovarian cancer in its early stages is because the symptoms are minimal. Sometimes there are not symptoms at the beginning. Even in the advanced stages of ovarian cancer, the symptoms are not very specific. In fact, they are often misdiagnosed as a condition that is considerably less concerning, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Some of the signs of ovarian cancer can include unexplained weight loss, bloating and feeling full after eating, changes in bowel movements, frequent urination, and discomfort or pain in the pelvic region.

If you have a history of ovarian cancer, you should talk about this with your doctor.

Ovarian Cancer Causes

Ovarian cancer develops when the cells within the ovary uncontrollably grow and multiply to produce a tumor. It is not yet clear what triggers this growth. However, certain factors have been documented as ovarian cancer risk factors. One of them is age. The risk of ovarian cancer increases with increase in age, with most cases occurring after menopause. According to studies, about 80% of ovarian cancer cases occur in women over 50, although some cases of ovarian cancer have been reported in younger women.

Genes and family history is another risk factor. Your chances of getting ovarian cancer are higher if there is a history of the diseases in the family, especially if a close relative (for example, your mother) has had it. This is often the case when you inherit BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which increase the risk of developing both breast and ovarian cancers.

Finally, it has been reported that taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Other ovarian cancer risk factors include endometriosis, smoking, obesity or overweight and use of talcum powder.

How is Ovarian Cancer Treated?

Once ovarian cancer has been confirmed, treatment usually involves a combination of chemotherapy and surgery. Surgery usually includes removal of the ovaries, as well as the uterus and fallopian tubes. Any lymph nodes that are close are also removed with fatty abdominal tissues. If the cancer has spread past this, more of the abdomen may be removed as well. Less removal may be required if the cancer is diagnosed early on. Chemotherapy usually follows surgery; however, it may be the first treatment if the ovarian cancer is advanced.

Ovarian Cancer Prevention

Some of the factors that put you at risk of developing ovarian cancer such as family history and genetic makeup may be out of your control. That said, you can make certain personal choices in order to lower your risk of developing ovarian cancer and other diseases. These include lifestyle choices like adopting a healthy diet with a lot of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Giving up alcohol and smoking can also reduce your risk developing ovarian cancer.

Use of birth control pills can also decrease the risk of developing ovarian cancer. According to studies, women who use oral contraceptives for five or more years are 50% less likely to develop the disease. Gynecologic procedures such as tubal ligation and hysterectomy are also believed to lower chances of developing ovarian cancer. If you are going to have a hysterectomy for medical reasons and you have a family history of ovarian cancer, consider having both fallopian tubes removed.

Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
March 30, 2018