What is ovarian cancer?
What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer?
What if ovarian cancer runs in my family?
Does anything protect against ovarian cancer?
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Is there a screening test for ovarian cancer?
Ovaries are part of a woman's reproductive system. A woman has two ovaries located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries produce eggs (ova) and also are the main source of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones regulate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy, and control the development of female body characteristics. When a woman goes through her "change of life" (menopause), her ovaries stop releasing eggs and make far lower levels of hormones.
Ovarian cancer is a cancer that forms in the tissues of the ovary. The most common type of ovarian cancer starts in the "epithelial" cells on the surface of the ovary. Less common types of ovarian cancer develop from the egg-forming "germ" cells or from the supporting tissue (stroma) of the ovary.
- Age. Most women are over age 55 when diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
- Family history of cancer. Women who have a mother, daughter, or sister with ovarian cancer have an increased risk of the disease. Also, women with a family history of cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum may also have an increased risk of ovarian cancer. However, only about 10% of all ovarian cancers can be linked to a family history of the disease.3 If several women in a family have ovarian or breast cancer, especially at a young age, this is considered a strong family history.
- Personal history of cancer. Women who have had cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum have a higher risk of ovarian cancer. Women who have had breast cancer are twice as likely to develop ovarian cancer.
- Never pregnant. Older women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- Hormone replacement therapy. Some studies have suggested that women who still have ovaries and take estrogen by itself (without progesterone) for 10 or more years may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Women who have had at least one child, and women who breast-feed are less likely to get ovarian cancer. Using oral contraceptives (birth control pills) also lowers risk. These factors reduce the number of times a woman ovulates during her lifetime, which may decrease the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Women considered at high risk due to personal or family history should consult regularly with a specialist and discuss strategies for prevention and early detection.
Ovarian cancer used to be called "the silent killer" because it caused no symptoms until it had advanced too far for successful treatment. Experts now say, however, that some symptoms of ovarian cancer occur even early in the disease process.3 They are:
- Feeling bloated;
- Pelvic or abdominal pain;
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly;
- Gas or indigestion that can't otherwise be explained;
- Urinary symptoms, such as urgent or frequent feelings of needing to go.
- Nausea or loss of appetite;
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing;
- Pain during sexual intercourse;
- Change in menstrual flow;
- Feeling tired;
- Slight fever;
- Frequent constipation and weight change.
There is currently no recommended method of screening for ovarian cancer in the general population. If you have ovarian cancer in your family history, or if you are having symptoms, your doctor may perform a combination of tests. They include:
- A recto-vaginal pelvic exam. The doctor can feel if there is any mass or growth in the abdomen. The doctor will insert one finger into your vagina and one finger into your rectum and press down on your abdomen with the other hand.
- A CA-125 blood test. CA-125 is a substance often found in the blood and urine of women with ovarian cancer. However, other, non-cancerous conditions can also cause an increase in CA-125, so a cancer diagnosis cannot be made from this test alone.
- A trans-vaginal sonogram (also called an ultrasound). This painless test uses sound waves to check for growths inside the pelvic area.
- A biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of tissue or fluid to look for cancer cells. Based on the results of the blood tests and ultrasound, your doctor may suggest surgery to remove tissue and fluid from the pelvis and abdomen. Surgery is usually needed to diagnose ovarian cancer.
Cancer of the Ovary. http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/ovary.html
Cancer Information Service
Phone: (800) 422-6237
Internet Address: http://www.cancer.gov/aboutnci/cis
Phone: (800) ACS-2345
Internet Address: http://www.cancer.org
Phone: (800) 444-4441
Internet Address: http://www.wcn.org/gcf
Phone: (561) 393-0005
Internet Address: http://www.ovarian.org
Phone: (800) CDC-INFO (800-232-4636)
Internet address: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/ovarian