Ovarian cancer is a malignant tumor 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.
The cause isn’t clear, but certain things can increase 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, breast feeding, and using birth control pills, can lower the chances.
The most common symptoms are vague or mild and include discomfort or a heavy feeling in the lower abdomen (belly), loss of appetite, and weight loss or gain. Others are abnormal periods, back pain, nausea, and loss of appetite.
Medical history and physical examination are the first steps in evaluating ovarian cancer. The health care provider may suspect cancer because of symptoms and physical examination. Imaging tests (such as ultrasonography) can suggest the possibility of cancer. 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, tumor markers (CA-125, a substance found in blood) may help diagnosis.
Treatment depends on the location and stage of disease, type of cancer, and age and general health. The main treatment is surgery, usually to remove ovaries, fallopian tubes, lymph glands (nodes), and uterus. Specialized doctors called gynecologic oncologists are the best doctors for treatment.
Drugs (chemotherapy) and radiation therapy are other choices.
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