What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer: Overview

Ovarian cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in or near your ovaries. The cancer cells may spread to other areas in the body. The ovaries are the organs that hold and release your eggs. They also make female sex hormones.

Treatment usually involves surgery to remove the ovaries. Other treatment may include:

  • Chemotherapy.
  • Targeted therapy.
  • Hormone therapy.
  • Immunotherapy.

Radiation therapy is rarely used. But it may be used in some cases. You also may get medicines to help with side effects.

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in or near the ovaries. The cancer cells can spread to other parts of your body.

The ovaries are two small glands, located on either side of your uterus. They make female sex hormones, and they store and release your eggs.

This cancer can occur in anyone who has female pelvic organs. Some people who get ovarian cancer have a family history of breast cancer or they have inherited certain gene changes, such as BRCA. But many of those who get ovarian cancer have no risk factors.

What happens when you have ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer often spreads early. Because it grows in the tissues covering the ovaries, it can spread easily within the abdominal cavity to the bowels and bladder or the abdominal lining. From there it may travel to other organs in the body, such as the liver or lungs.

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

In some cases, ovarian cancer may cause early symptoms. The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Frequent bloating.
  • Pain in your belly or pelvis.
  • Trouble eating, or feeling full quickly.
  • Urinary problems, such as an urgent need to urinate or urinating more often than usual.

If you have one or more of these symptoms, and it occurs almost daily for more than 2 or 3 weeks, talk with your doctor.

These symptoms are common for some people. They may not mean that you have ovarian cancer. But the early symptoms of ovarian cancer follow a pattern:

  • They start suddenly.
  • They feel different than your normal digestive or menstrual problems.
  • They happen almost every day and don't go away.

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Indigestion.
  • Back pain.
  • Pain with intercourse.
  • Constipation.
  • Menstrual cycle changes.

But these symptoms are also common in some people who don't have ovarian cancer.

How is ovarian cancer treated?

Treatment for ovarian cancer is based on the stage of the cancer and other things, such as your overall health. The main treatment is surgery to remove the cancer. Other treatment options may include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and endocrine therapy.

How can you lower your risk for ovarian cancer?

Here are some things that can lower your risk for ovarian cancer:

  • Taking birth control pills. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits before taking them.
  • Having a baby.
  • Breast-feeding.
  • Having surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes. This may be done for women who are at very high risk because of inherited genes. It greatly reduces your risk for ovarian cancer. But it will cause you to start menopause early, which may have other risks. Your doctor can talk with you about the risks and benefits of this surgery.

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

Your doctor may check you for ovarian cancer if a lump is found on an ovary during a pelvic exam or an ultrasound. You will likely also get a physical exam. You will be asked about any symptoms, your medical history, and your family’s history of cancer.

You may also get some tests. They include lab tests. One of these is a blood test called CA-125. Too much CA-125 (cancer antigen 125) in your blood can be a sign of ovarian cancer. Other tests may also include imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or a CT scan.

If these tests show signs of cancer, you will get a biopsy. This involves surgery to remove an ovary. Tissue from the ovary will be looked at under a microscope to see if it has cancer cells.

How can you care for yourself when you have ovarian cancer?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You may get medicine for nausea and vomiting if you have these side effects.
  • Eat healthy food. If you do not feel like eating, try to eat food that has protein and extra calories to keep up your strength and prevent weight loss. Drink liquid meal replacements for extra calories and protein. Try to eat your main meal early. Eating smaller portions more often may help as well.
  • Get some physical activity every day, but do not get too tired. Keep doing the hobbies you enjoy as your energy allows.
  • Take steps to control your stress and workload. Learn relaxation techniques.
    • Share your feelings. Stress and tension affect our emotions. By expressing your feelings to others, you may be able to understand and cope with them.
    • Consider joining a support group. Talking about a problem with your spouse, a good friend, or other people with similar problems is a good way to reduce tension and stress.
    • Express yourself through art. Try writing, dance, art, or crafts to relieve tension. Some dance, writing, or art groups may be available just for people who have cancer.
    • Be kind to your body and mind. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and taking time to do things you enjoy can contribute to an overall feeling of balance in your life and help reduce stress.
    • Get help if you need it. Discuss your concerns with your doctor or counselor.
  • If you are vomiting or have diarrhea:
    • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Choose water and other clear liquids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
    • When you are able to eat, try clear soups, mild foods, and liquids until all symptoms are gone for 12 to 48 hours. Other good choices include dry toast, crackers, cooked cereal, and gelatin dessert, such as Jell-O.
  • Take care of your urinary tract to prevent problems such as infection, which can be caused by ovarian cancer and its treatment. Limit drinks with caffeine, drink plenty of fluids, and urinate every 3 or 4 hours.
  • If you have not already done so, prepare a list of advance directives. Advance directives are instructions to your doctor and family members about what kind of care you want if you become unable to speak or express yourself.

How do ovarian cancer treatments affect your sexuality?

Your feelings about your body may change after treatment for ovarian cancer. Surgery and other treatments may cause physical or emotional changes that affect your body image. Or they may affect your desire to be intimate with a partner. Everyone has their own reaction to the challenges of cancer treatment.

If you have concerns, try to talk openly with your partner, if you have one. Or discuss your feelings with your doctor or nurse. Your care team may be able to help. Or they may refer you to counseling or a support group. Talking with others who've had similar feelings can be very helpful.

What puts you at risk for ovarian cancer?

In most cases, the risk of getting ovarian cancer is small. This cancer most often happens after menopause. You may be more likely to get it if a close relative or family member has had it. And it's possible to inherit certain gene changes that could increase your chance of getting it.

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in or near your ovaries. The ovaries are two small glands, located on either side of your uterus. They produce female sex hormones and store and release eggs. Ovarian cancer can occur in anyone who has female pelvic organs.

What causes ovarian cancer?

Experts don't know exactly what causes ovarian cancer. Genetics, such as DNA changes, are a risk factor for a small number of those who get ovarian cancer. For example, the risk of ovarian cancer is higher for those who have BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene changes than for those without them.

Who should be screened for ovarian cancer?

Experts don't recommend routine screening for ovarian cancer for women who have an average risk for the disease and who have no symptoms. Having screening tests doesn't help them live longer. And the tests, such as the CA-125 test or transvaginal ultrasound, often have false-positive results that can lead to more tests and unneeded surgery.

Some women have a higher risk of ovarian cancer. This includes those with BRCA gene changes. For them, doctors may recommend the CA-125 test and a transvaginal ultrasound. If you are at higher risk, the benefits of screening may outweigh the harms.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.