Introduction/ Ovarian Cancer Definition: Ovarian cancer refers to cancer i.e., abnormal growth in the ovaries (female reproductive organs that produce eggs in women for the process of reproduction). Ovarian cancer holds third place in the most commonly detected cancers in India and seventh place in the most common cancers in the world. What is Ovarian Cancer? As we have already discussed, cancer is an abnormal growth of the cells. Not just the ovary, but this abnormality of growth can be seen in any part of the body. All of the cells have a defined life cycle which includes the growth phase, the dividing phase and the death phase or the phase when they get replaced by other cells. However, at times, these cells can begin to grow at a very rapid rate or no longer die at times when they should be dying. This abnormal growth leads to the development of tumours. These tumours can be either malignant/ cancerous (that can spread to other parts of the body) or benign/ non-cancerous (confined to one area).
Types of Ovarian Cancer: There are more than 30 types of ovarian cancer classifications. These types are put into different groups depending on the kind of cell where they start/ occur. There are three main types of cells that can be found in the ovaries and a tumour can be developed in any one of them.
These types are:
Epithelial tumours are the most common type of tumours seen in women with ovarian cancer. It is more commonly seen in women who have undergone menopause. Most of these tumours are non-cancerous in nature and hence, one should not start stressing over if she gets informed about having an epithelial tumour. The benign epithelial tumours include serous adenoma, Brenner’s tumours and mucinous adenoma. An epithelial tumour is known as carcinoma if it is cancerous. These are further divided into four subtypes depending on the things seen under the microscope by the doctor. These carcinoma subtypes are:
The cancer is referred to as an “undifferentiated” one if it does not look like any of the above subtypes. Such types of tumours have a high tendency to grow at a faster rate and these can also spread faster than any of the above 4 types of cancer. There can be times when the doctor is not able to tell whether an epithelial tumour is cancer or not, under the microscope. Such a tumour is said to be a low malignant potential (LMP) tumour or borderline epithelial tumour. This kind of epithelial cancer is found to be less life-threatening than the other kinds of epithelial cancers.
Germ Cell Tumours:
Germ cell tumours can be found in women of any age. Although, these are most commonly seen in women who are in their 20s. The majority of these tumours are benign in nature. Germ cell carcinomas have a few subtypes and the tumours can sometimes be a mix of more than one germ cell subtype. Four of the main subtypes are:
Stromal Tumours: These tumours are usually diagnosed earlier than the other kind of tumours. The most common symptom of these tumours is abnormal vaginal bleeding which happens due to the extra production of estrogen hormone from these tumours. Because of the same reason, such tumours can cause the development of breasts and menstrual periods in girls even before they hit puberty. In very rare cases, these tumours can also make male hormones like testosterone and hence, causing the menstrual periods to stop and the growth of facial and body hair. These tumours can cause serious abdominal pain if they start bleeding.
Ovarian Cancer Causes and Risk Factors:
The exact causes of ovarian cancer are unknown. Although, a few factors have been proven as significant factors that can play some role in the development of ovarian cancer. These include the following:
There are no thumb rules when we talk about cancers. Different cancers have different risk factors associated with them. Some of these factors can be changed, others cannot be changed. Although, it is not certain that one develops ovarian cancer if she has one, or even many of such risk factors. The risk factors include the following:
Ovarian Cancer Symptoms:
Majority of the ovarian cancers begin in the epithelium i.e., the outer lining of the ovaries. There may be a few or no symptoms at all in the early stages. However, even if the symptoms are there, they may resemble those of the other conditions like PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome), irritable bowel syndrome, etc. Although, in the case of ovarian cancer, such symptoms persist for a longer time and get worse with time.
Ovarian cancer early symptoms/ ovarian cancer first symptoms include the following:
If one experiences any of the above symptoms for 2 weeks or more, she should consult a doctor, other than these symptoms, there can also be other symptoms:
These symptoms can change if cancer gets metastasised to other parts of the body
Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis: All thanks to the modern advancements of science, we are able to detect cancers and even, pre-cancers before the symptoms start appearing. There are many methods to diagnose ovarian cancer, which are as follows:
Ovarian Cancer Treatment:
If we talk about the treatments for ovarian cancer, they usually involve surgery along with chemotherapy. However, the treatment course may change depending on the situations of the particular cases.
There are various kinds of surgeries that are used to remove ovarian cancer from an individual. Your doctor might suggest one of the following depending upon your case.
Surgical removal of one ovary: This surgery can be used for cancers in the early stage. The cancer is only confined to a single ovary and hence, has not spread to the other ovary. Such surgery may involve the removal of the ovary that is affected along with the fallopian tube. This procedure doesn’t create a hindrance to your reproductive capability and hence, you can still be a mother after this surgery.
Surgical removal of both ovaries: Such surgery is done in cases where cancer has spread or is present in both ovaries. However, no additional signs of cancer can be seen in such individuals. Your surgeon/ doctor may remove both of your ovaries and fallopian tubes. This surgery also doesn’t cause any serious damage to your reproductive organs and hence, one can get pregnant after this procedure if they use frozen embryos/ eggs or donor eggs.
Surgical removal of the uterus along with both ovaries: If the cancer is extensive or in cases of people who do not wish to preserve their reproductive capability then, in such cases, the surgeon may remove the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, surrounding lymph nodes and a fold of fatty abdominal tissue through surgery.
Surgery for advanced cancer: If the cancer is of the advanced stage, the doctor might recommend you to undergo surgery that involves the removal of as much cancer as can be removed. Chemotherapy is often preceded or succeeded before or after this surgery.
Even though, ovarian cancer sounds like a devastating condition (that it is, at times) yet if you ask an ovarian cancer survivor, you’ll get to know all you need is a timely detection, some hope and a competent doctor by your side. You need to have a doctor who is straight forward and direct with the approach and timeline of your case that she/he has planned in their head. Hence, you should be careful when consulting a doctor as you will not feel very wise of yourself if you go to any doctor recommended by your family and/ or friends. One must look through all the options and then decide if she/he wants to go ahead with something in their life.