Contributed by – Healthians team
No matter what type of cancer you get diagnosed with, it can be a pretty frightening and hellish experience. But if you take a look at different kinds of cancer, you’ll notice that some are more lethal than others. In fact, ovarian cancer is considered one of the deadliest type of cancer in women. It’s also one of the most common cancers in women. The thing about this type of cancer that makes it a “silent killer” is that it is extremely difficult to detect. Its symptoms can be vague and would seem like everyday changes associated with aging and gastrointestinal issues.
Nevetheless, to be able to catch the signs of ovarian cancer, it is important for you to know everything about ovarian cancer – from what it is to its symptoms and treatment; and that is what we’ll talk about here. So, if you happen to notice any signs or think you are at risk, please notify your doctor at the earliest.
What is ovarian cancer?
As the name suggests, ovarian cancer is the cancer of ovaries. Ovaries are a part of the female reproductive system. There are two of them – about the size of an almond – on both sides of the uterus. Their job is to produce eggs as well as hormones like estrogen and progesterone.
Signs of ovarian cancer often go undetected until cancer has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. But, at this stage of ovarian cancer, treatment is difficult. Treatment may be successful with an early diagnosis, while the cancer is within the ovaries.
What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer
While it can affect anyone at any age, there are few factors that can increase your risk of developing it. These include:
- Older age
- Having one or more relatives with ovarian cancer
- Gene abnormalities, called BRCA1 or BRCA2
- Genetic link to hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC; also known as Lynch syndrome)
- Never being pregnant
- Being overweight
Hence, it is advisable to add an ovarian cancer blood test or a CA125 test to your annual health check regime to keep on top of this condition.
What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Early-stage ovarian cancer may not cause any symptoms while in the advanced stage, symptoms can be few with less severity. They also mimic the symptoms of other common day-to-day conditions.
Nonetheless, symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
- Bloating with pain
- Serious loss of appetite
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- Frequent urination
- Changes in the menstrual cycle
- Severe back pain
- Excessive fatigue
- Painful sex
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dark and coarse hair growth
- Vaginal bleeding
- Weight loss
What are the stages of ovarian cancer?
There are four stages of ovarian cancer and each of them has substages. However, only your doctor can determine these stages of ovarian cancer.
Stage 1A – The cancer is limited to one ovary.
Stage 1B – The cancer is in both ovaries.
Stage 1C – Cancer cells have spread to the outside of the ovaries.
Stage 2A – The cancer cells have spread to the uterus or fallopian tubes.
Stage 2B – The cancer cells have spread to the bladder or rectum.
Stage 3A – The cancer cells have spread to the lining of the abdomen and the lymph nodes in the abdomen.
Stage 3B – The cancer cells have spread to the outside of the spleen or liver.
Stage 3C – At least ¾ inch cancer deposits are seen on the abdomen or outside the spleen or liver.
Stage 4A – The cancer cells have spread in the fluid around the lungs.
Stage 4B – The cancer cells have spread to the inside of the spleen or liver or have reached other organs like skin or brain as well.
[Also read: Not every tumor is cancerous]
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
As mentioned, this cancer doesn’t show obvious symptoms in the initial stages due to which it often goes undetected. Also, it is unlikely that you can feel the tumor because of the location of ovaries, which are deep inside the abdominal cavity. That is why it is important that you report any unusual and persistent symptoms to your doctor. In case your doctor is concerned, he/she will recommend a pelvic exam and maybe an ovarian cancer test named CA125 . Following tests may also be performed for diagnosis:
- Transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS)
- Pelvic CT scan
- Pelvic MRI scan
- Blood test to measure cancer antigen 125
What is the treatment of ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer treatment depends on how far cancer has spread and whether you want to have children in the future. However, the treatment will most likely include the following methods:
The goal of the surgery is to remove the tumor. The extent of surgery would depend on how far cancer has spread and whether you want to be pregnant in the future. If not, then a hysterectomy or complete removal of the uterus is a viable option. Considering the spread of cancer, removal of both ovaries, fallopian tubes, nearby lymph nodes, and other pelvic tissue may also be recommended.
To attack cancer cells, targeted therapy such as chemotherapy or radiation can be used. But, it may include side effects such as nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, and sleeping problems.
Treatment of symptoms
As you prepare for cancer treatment, you may also need to talk to your doctor about additional treatment for the symptoms the cancer is causing. Pain is one such symptom. You could have pain because the tumor might put pressure on nearby organs or because of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.
Getting regular checkups and consultation with a doctor is the best way to eliminate possible risks, no matter how normal any symptom may look. An early diagnosis will increase the likeliness of successful treatment. So, never sit back and wait for a symptom to magically disappear, get it examined, and get tested for cancer.
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