Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries, each about the size of an almond, produce eggs (ova) as well as the female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone.
Ovarian cancer is the third most common cancer amongst women. It usually occurs in women above 50 years of age. Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, ovarian cancer is more difficult to treat. Early-stage ovarian cancer, in which the disease is confined to the ovary, is more likely to be treated successfully. Since the ovaries are located deep inside the abdomen, they are not easily accessible for examination. This along with vague symptoms make early detection of ovarian cancer a challenge.
The type of cell where the cancer begins determines the type of ovarian cancer which include:
Epithelial tumours begin in the thin layer of tissue that covers the outside of the ovaries. About 90 percent of ovarian cancers are epithelial tumours.
Stromal tumours begin in the ovarian tissue that contains hormone-secreting cells. These tumours are usually diagnosed at an earlier stage than other ovarian tumours. About 7 percent of ovarian tumours are stromal.
Germ cell tumours, which begin in the egg-producing cells. These rare ovarian cancers tend to occur in younger women.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often not recognised early in the disease. They may also be so vague in the earlier stages, that they can easily be ignored. Some of the common symptoms are:
Stomach ache and abdominal discomfort accompanied by a feeling of bloating or fullness of the stomach
Abnormal vaginal bleeding
Sudden weight gain or weight loss without any apparent reason
Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, constipation and frequent urination in some cases
The exact cause of this disease is still under investigation. However, studies show those women are at higher risk who:
Have no children
Have had breast or colon cancer
Use fertility drugs regularly
Are on or have undergone hormone replacement therapy
Depending on the stage of the ovarian cancer, the doctor recommends a customised treatment plan which is a combination of:
Surgical treatment may be sufficient for malignant tumours that are well-differentiated and confined to the ovary. In addition, chemotherapy may be required for more aggressive tumours that are confined to the ovary. For patients with advanced disease, a combination of surgical reduction with a combination chemotherapy regimen is standard.