Ovarian Cancer- Types, Causes, Prevention & Treatment

Cancer is a disease that affects reproductive organs as well! The cancers that occur in the reproductive organs of females are called ‘gynecologic cancers’. One of the most critical cancers out of them is ovarian cancer as it hampers women’s ability to procreate to a great extent!

Ovarian cancer develops in the ovaries i.e., organs that help in sexual reproduction and hormone production in females. It mostly affects women who are 35 years old and above, and reaches a peak between the ages of 55 and 64 years. It afflicts women who never had children or those who had children after 30 years of age.

In India, the incidence of this type of cancer is between 5– 8 per 1 lakh women. It has the worst prognosis among all gynaecological cancers with a 5-year survival rate of just 45%. With poor awareness and insufficient health facilities, it has become a growing concern among Indian women.

What Are The Causes And Types Of Ovarian Cancer?

Like every other cancer, ovarian cancer may also develop due to genetic changes but there are also a number of risk factors that can cause it!

Growing age, family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer or non-polyposis colon cancer and menopause can accelerate its risk. Estrogen hormone replacement therapy done in large doses is also one of the major risk factors!

The most common type of ovarian cancer is epithelial ovarian cancer, that occurs in the lining of ovaries and accounts for 90% of ovarian cancer. Second comes stromal cancer occurring in the hormone-producing cells of ovaries accounting for 7%. Third is germ cell cancer that is found in the egg-producing cells, accounting for the rest 3%.

Warning Signs And Symptoms

Ovary cancer is hard to detect at early stages as it does not show any particular symptoms. At advanced stages, however, a number of symptoms like weight loss, pain or swelling in the abdomen, frequent urination, pelvic discomfort and changes in bowel habits such as constipation are seen.

In later stages, growth in abdominal size, nausea, vomiting and swelling of the leg because of deep vein thrombosis is often observed!

If you do notice these symptoms, taking a diagnostic test is a must!

Screening Tests For Ovarian Cancer

The first step is to go for a pelvic exam. You can also take a blood test that checks for a protein called CA-125 whose higher levels may indicate cancer in the ovaries. Imaging tests like transvaginal ultrasound or MRI can help detect the tumours easily. If not these, a biopsy will confirm the presence of ovarian cancer. But, a biopsy or FNAC is reserved for advanced stages of the disease, as in early disease a biopsy can potentially upstage the disease.

How Can It Be Treated?

Like every other cancer, the treatment for ovarian cancer depends on the type and stage of the cancer, the patient’s age and overall health, and affordability of treatment.

The first option could be surgery which is termed as cytoreductive surgery, which includes removal of uterus (hysterectomy) and both ovaries(oophorectomy) along with pelvic lymph nodes(pelvic lymphadenectomy) and omentum(omentectomy). In a few cases the peritoneum, a thin sheet of layer covering all the internal organs in the abdomen, is also stripped off either partly or in total(peritonectomy). Other options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

The Preventive Measures You Can Take

There is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, but there are a few measures associated with a lowered chance of getting ovarian cancer. Regular health examinations and going for relevant tests could help in identifying ovarian cancer.

Using birth control pills for five or more years or getting a tubal ligation may help in preventing ovarian cancer. According to a research, women who give birth and breastfeed for a year or more may have a reduced risk of ovarian cancer. Women from high risk family groups are advised to undergo prophylactic bilateral oophorectomy with or without hysterectomy, after completing their family, to prevent ovarian cancer.

With increasing incidence of cancer in women, we cannot afford to take life for granted and my effort to help women get the right kind of care has started with the initiative Mission Cancer Care!

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