Ovarian cancer starts in the ovaries and is the ninth leading cancer among women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer). However, it is the deadliest reproductive cancer for women and is fifth on the list of cancer-related deaths among women. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), it is most common in white women over the age of 63.
The ovaries are responsible for producing eggs. They also provide the body with necessary hormones like estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian tumors aren’t always cancerous. According to the ACS, there are three main types of ovarian tumors.
- Epithelial tumors is the most common ones, some of which can be benign. These tend to grow slowly and do not represent a life-threatening risk. However, malignant epithelial tumors are the most dangerous and prevalent kind.
- Epithelial tumors originate in the cells of the ovary’s outer surface.
- Germ cell tumors are different in that they begin in the ovary’s egg-producing cells. Other ovarian tumors are called stromal tumors. These begin in cells that create hormones and keep the ovary intact.
Cause of Ovarian Cancer
The exact cause of ovarian cancer is currently unclear. However, the ACS reports that the disease is associated with certain risk factors. Genetic mutations (specifically the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations), being obese, and having a family history of the disease may all increase the risk for ovarian cancer.
A fertility drug called clomiphene citrate has also been linked to the disease. Having children and breastfeeding may also lower the chances of developing ovarian cancer. However, the causes are still largely unclear to researchers.
Symptoms and treatment
Symptoms of ovarian cancer aren’t typically evident. When they do appear, they include bloating, pelvic/abdominal pain, feeling full quickly after eating, fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain during sex, constipation and changes in menstruation. Because these symptoms mirror those of other diseases, ovarian cancer may be more difficult to detect.
In terms of treatment, a process called staging is important. This helps doctors understand how advanced the cancer is. In most cases, this involves removing the reproductive organs and testing them for cancer cells. Debulking is another important process. This is when doctors clear out the body of any tumors that are larger than one centimeter, according to the ACS. In addition to staging and debulking, other treatment options may include chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy and targeted therapies.
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