It is estimated that more than 15,500 women will die in the United States from ovarian cancer this year. Many women don’t seek help until the disease has begun to spread. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often subtle and easily confused with other ailments.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is cancer that develops in the ovaries. The ovaries are part of a woman’s reproductive system. They are located in the pelvis on either side of the uterus. Each ovary is about the size of an almond. The ovaries make the female hormones progesterone and estrogen and also release eggs into the fallopian tubes.
Cancer begins at a cellular level. Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells. These new cells take the place of old cells as they die. Cancer cells continue to grow and divide. These abnormal cells continue to create new cells forming a tumor.
Signs & Symptoms
Ovarian cancer symptoms are often subtle and difficult to diagnose. Research suggests there are four symptoms that may be associated with ovarian cancer:
Pelvic or Abdominal pain
Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
Urinary urgency or frequency
Other symptoms may include:
Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation or diarrhea
Shortness of breath
Talk to your doctor if symptoms last more than 2-3 weeks. You are your best advocate.
Your doctor may order the following tests:
- Physical examination – Your doctor will palpate your abdomen to look for discomfort and tenderness or abnormal fluid
- Pelvic examination
- Blood Test – Your doctor may order a CA-125 blood test. This test measures CA-125 in the blood. CA-125 is found on the surface on ovarian cancer cells and also normal tissue. A high CA-125 level may indicate ovarian cancer or other conditions.
Stages of Ovarian Cancer
There are four stages of ovarian cancer. Your doctor will determine your stage of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is treated differently depending on which stage you are diagnosed with. The four primary stages are:
Stage I: The cancer is completely contained within the ovary or ovaries
Stage II: The cancer is in one or both of the ovaries and has spread to additional organs located in the pelvis such as the bladder, colon, rectum or uterus.
Stage III: The cancer is in one or both ovaries and has spread to one or both of the following: the lining of the abdomen or the lymph nodes.
Stage IV: The most advanced stage of cancer. The cancer has spread from one or both ovaries to additional organs such as the liver or lungs, or there may be cancer cells in the fluid surrounding the lungs.
Recurrent: The cancer has returned after successful treatment.
Ovarian cancer does not discriminate. It can strike a woman of any race or at any age. We do know that women with certain risk factors may have a greater chance of developing ovarian cancer. These risk factors include:
Family history of breast or ovarian cancer
Personal history of cancer
Women over the age of 55
Women who were never pregnant
Women on menopausal hormone replacement therapy
Source: Ovarian Cancer Awareness