If you or someone you love is suffering from ovarian cancer, it's important to learn everything you can about this pernicious disease and how to treat it. One out of every 78 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which makes this disease one of the most widespread forms of cancer in the world. But what, exactly, causes ovarian cancer, and once you have it, what can you do to treat this devastating disease?
What Is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in a woman's ovaries, which are part of the female reproductive system. Women have two ovaries, and these organs produce the eggs from which zygotes develop. Every woman has a set number of eggs, and as these eggs run out, the ovaries shut down, and hormonal changes bring about the onset of menopause.
Despite the fact that ovaries are relatively small organs, there are over 30 different types of ovarian cancer, and each type of this disease affects the ovaries in different ways. These various types of cancer can occur in a number of different parts of the ovaries, and different types of ovarian cancer have different probable causes.
No matter what type of ovarian cancer occurs, this type of disease starts in either the stromal, epithelial, or germ cells of the ovary. Since the early stages of ovarian cancer are largely painless, this disease usually goes undiagnosed until it spreads to other organs in the pelvis and abdomen. By this point, ovarian cancer is almost impossible to treat, and it is usually fatal. If you learn the symptoms of ovarian cancer and catch it early, however, it's possible to treat this disease that is expected to be diagnosed in over 22,000 women in the United States in 2018.
What Are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
In many cases, ovarian cancer does not have any symptoms. When this type of cancer is limited to the ovaries, it isn't likely that it will cause much pain since these organs don't have many nerves. Most women don't know that they have ovarian cancer until this disease spreads to organs that are more sensitive, but some of the symptoms that you may notice in early-stage ovarian cancer include:
- A sensation of immediately feeling full after eating a small amount of food
- Bloating almost every time that you eat
- Nausea or difficulty eating
- A frequent and pressing urge to urinate
- Pain, pressure, or discomfort in your abdominal region
- Indigestion and constipation
As you can see, these symptoms are relatively vague, and they are also caused by a variety of different conditions that have nothing to do with ovarian cancer. However, since the ovaries also control the production of female hormones like estrogen, this condition may cause a number of other symptoms that are easier to recognize as being caused by a dysfunction in the female hormonal system. While the following symptoms don't immediately indicate the presence of ovarian cancer, they can help an oncologist determine whether or not you have this disease:
- Pain during sex
- Sudden changes in a previously regular menstrual cycle
- Constant fatigue
- Rapid weight gain or weight loss
- Non-menstrual vaginal bleeding
- Adult acne
- Severe back pain that gets worse over time
If you experience any of the conditions for more than two weeks, you should visit with your doctor immediately. While all of these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than ovarian cancer, you don't want to wait until it's too late to effectively treat this disease.
What Types of Ovarian Cancer Are There?
While there are dozens of unique sub-types of ovarian cancer, all of these different conditions can be categorized into one of the overarching forms of this disease. These categories are based on the types of cells that originally become cancerous, and each type of ovarian cancer entails a different treatment regimen and prognosis.
Epithelial Carcinoma of the Ovary
Epithelial cell carcinoma is responsible for over 85 percent of ovarian cancer cases, which makes it the most common form of this condition. In most cases, epithelial cell carcinoma doesn't have any symptoms, which makes it hard to diagnose this disease in its early stages.
The epithelium is the part of the ovary that consists of the surface layer that covers the inner tissues of this organ. Medical scientists have discovered a number of genetic factors that can increase your risk of developing epithelial cell carcinoma, and if you have a family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, or colon cancer, you are more likely to develop this type of ovarian cancer.
Women are more likely to survive this type of cancer if they are diagnosed while they are still relatively young and their epithelial cell carcinoma is diagnosed at an early stage. In addition, if your tumor is well-differentiated, which means that it is largely separate from the surrounding tissue, surgery is more effective at removing this type of cancer. You are also more likely to survive if your tumor is relatively small at the time that it is discovered.
Stromal Cell Cancer of the Ovary
This type of cancer occurs in the ovarian cells that produce reproductive hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. Since this type of cancer usually affects your hormone levels, it is often easy to diagnose. For instance, if you have excessive testosterone in your system, you may develop facial hair or acne, and if you are producing excess estrogen, you may experience uterine bleeding.
While these symptoms can sometimes be caused by other conditions, a good doctor will always check for stromal cell cancer if you are experiencing inexplicable hormonal fluctuation. Out of all of the different types of ovarian cancer, stromal cell cancer is the easiest to diagnose early, which means that it generally has a good prognosis.
Germ Cell Cancer of the Ovary
Germ cell cancer occurs when the parts of your ovaries that create eggs develop cancer. This type of ovarian cancer is relatively rare, and while most types of ovarian cancer occur in menopausal or post-menopausal women, germ cell cancer occurs most commonly in teenage girls and women in their early 20s.
One way to identify this type of cancer before it gets out of hand is by using a pregnancy test. In some cases, these tumors can make your ovaries produce the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which is usually only released when you are pregnant. While germ cell cancer tumors can get quite large, they are usually relatively easy to treat with surgery. However, most oncologists recommend that you undergo chemotherapy after your tumor is removed to ensure that any cancer tissues that may have remained in the ovary area are destroyed.
What Causes Ovarian Cancer?
Medical researchers are still unsure about the exact causes of ovarian cancer. Since there are so many different types of this disease, it would stand to reason that different forms of ovarian cancer may be caused by different factors, but direct causal links between lifestyle choices, nutrition, or other factors and the development of this condition have not been established for most types of ovarian cancer.
A couple of the different forms of this disease have been linked to inherited genetic mutations, and if you have any of these mutations, you are more at risk of developing these specific types of ovarian cancer. However, it is almost certain that not every type of ovarian cancer is caused by genetic factors. In addition, certain fertility treatments have been linked to the development of ovarian cancer, but these treatments increase your risk of developing this disease by such a small factor that most scientists are unsure about the nature of the link between these two variables.
It's possible that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer. In addition, if you have a history of damage to your reproductive system, you may be at higher risk of developing this disease. For instance, if you have had an ectopic pregnancy, endometriosis, or untreated ovarian cysts, you may be more likely to develop ovarian cancer. It's even possible that factors like stress can alter your likelihood of developing this disease; much more research into ovarian cancer needs to be done before medical scientists can create a cohesive picture of how this disease comes into being.
How Is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?
The diagnosis process for ovarian cancer begins with a routine physical examination. As part of this exam, your doctor will perform both pelvic and rectal examinations, and they may use multiple blood tests. Keep in mind that a pap smear does not detect ovarian cancer; however, blood tests are often very effective in determining whether or not you have this condition. To help in the diagnosis process, your doctor may use any of the following tools:
- Cancer antigen 125 level test
- HCG level test to detect the presence of a germ cell tumor
- Alpha-fetoprotein test to detect the presence of a germ cell tumor
- Lactate dehydrogenase level test to detect thepresence of a germ cell tumor
- Tests to determine your hormonal levels to detect the presence of a stromal cell tumor
- Tests of your liver function to determine whether or not the cancer has spread
- Tests of your kidney function to determine whether your cancer has spread to your bladder or kidneys
In addition, your doctor may take biopsies of each of your ovaries, which are tiny tissue samples. These samples will then be sent to a lab for analysis. Your doctor may use a CT scan or an ultrasound to guide the needle that they use for the biopsy process, or they may use a laparoscope. A CT scan, MRI, or PET scan may also be ordered to examine your ovaries for any change in shape or size that may be caused by a tumor.
If your doctor is concerned that your cancer may have spread to other organs, they may order a urinalysis test, a chest X-ray, or a barium enema. These tests check the various organs in your abdominal and chest area for the presence of tumors.
The best way to make sure that your ovarian cancer is diagnosed in the early stages is to submit to regular ovarian cancer screenings. These screenings are not especially effective; they often return positive results even if the patient in question doesn't have ovarian cancer. However, you may still want to check for ovarian cancer annually if there is a history of fallopian tube, peritoneal, ovarian, or breast cancer in your family.
What Are the Treatments for Ovarian Cancer?
Depending on the type of ovarian cancer you have and the stage it has reached, your doctor may recommend a variety of different treatments. It's important to keep in mind that some of these treatment methods may make you infertile, so if you still want to have children in the future, you'll have some hard decisions to make.
Some types of ovarian cancer are easy to treat with surgery, and your oncologist may also recommend surgery to confirm your diagnosis. The goal of this type of surgery is to remove all of the ovarian tissue that contains cancer, and if you want to remain fertile, your doctor may choose only to remove the ovary that has cancer. If you don't plan to have children, however, your surgeon will most likely remove both ovaries, and they may also remove other reproductive organs such as your uterus and fallopian tubes.
In some cases, your surgeon may be unable to remove all of the cancer cells through surgery. Even if it seems like all of the cancerous tissue has been removed, most oncologists will still recommend that you undergo chemotherapy following surgery. Throughout your treatment process, your doctor will also most likely recommend that you use pain medication.
What Are Your Chances of Beating Ovarian Cancer?
Your chances of overcoming your ovarian cancer are usually dependent on the stage that your cancer has reached. If your cancer has spread to vital organs like your kidneys or liver, it will most likely prove fatal. If your cancer remains confined to your ovaries, however, your prognosis is most likely optimistic. Out of all the women who develop ovarian cancer, 47 percent are still alive after five years, and this five-year survival rate jumps to 92 percent if ovarian cancer is diagnosed before it has spread to surrounding tissues, which proves that the best way to ensure that you'll beat your cancer is to catch it before it metastasizes.
Contacting a Premier Ovarian Cancer Doctor Near Me
If you or a loved one are dealing with or believe you may have Ovarian Cancer, it is extremely important to have a specialist who is knowledgeable and proficient in the field to guide you through this difficult time. GYN LA specialize in Ovarian Cancer and various treatments that are associated with it. Our team of doctors, specialists, and nurses are some of the top tier in the field and are waiting to help give you the attention and support you are in need of. Contact us at 310-375-8446 to schedule your consultation.