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Ovarian cancer is a malignant tumour in the ovary, the woman’s reproductive organ that releases eggs and female hormones, such as estrogen. It’s the second most common women’s cancer (after cancer of the uterus). About half of women with this cancer are older (average age of 59) and have gone through menopause (change of life), so their ovaries no longer work.
Ovarian cancer is an abnormal growth of tissue (tumour) in one or both ovaries that is cancerous (malignant). Unlike noncancerous (benign) tumours, malignant tumours can spread to other parts of your body.
The ovaries are the parts of the female reproductive system that produce eggs. Women have two ovaries. They are located on either side of your uterus.
The cause isn’t clear, but certain things can increase the chances of getting it. The most important are age and having relatives who had it. Others are obesity, having breast cancer, starting periods early, and going through menopause late. Some other factors, such as having children, breastfeeding, and using birth control pills, can lower the chances.
There are a number of risk factors that can increase your chances of getting ovarian cancer:
Early ovarian cancer often does not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
Your health care provider will ask about your medical history. He or she may also perform a number of tests, such as:
Biopsy is the only way to tell whether a mass in the ovary is cancer. In a biopsy, a small piece of tissue is surgically removed and studied with a microscope. The doctor also uses the surgery to find out the stage (extent) of a cancer. The stage relates to how far the cancer spread. Sometimes, tumour markers (CA-125, a substance found in blood) may help diagnosis.
Your cancer will be staged to determine its severity and extent. Staging is performed by your health care provider during surgery when the ovarian cancer is removed. Staging is done to find out the size of the tumour, whether the cancer has spread, and if so, to what parts of your body. You may need to have more tests to determine the stage of your cancer:
Treatment depends on the location and stage of disease, type of cancer, and age and general health.
Women with ovarian cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or any combination of the three. If the cancer is found at an early stage, surgery may be done to remove one ovary and its fallopian tube. For more advanced cases, surgery may be done to remove the uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Your health care provider may also remove the lymph nodes near the tumour and some tissue in the abdomen. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be used before or after the surgery. Radiation, the use of high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells, may be used in certain instances.
Follow these instructions at home regarding ovarian cancer:
Contact a health care provider regarding ovarian cancer if:
DOs and DON’Ts in managing ovarian cancer: