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What Is Ovarian Cancer?

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.

What Causes Ovarian Cancer?

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.

What Are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?

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.

How Is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?

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.

How Is Ovarian Cancer Treated?

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.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Ovarian Cancer:

  • DO tell your health care provider about relatives with ovarian cancer.
  • DO remember, if you have not yet gone through menopause, that removing your ovaries and uterus means that you cannot become pregnant. You’ll also go through menopause.
  • DO ask your health care provider about emotional and social support groups in your community.
  • DO tell your health care provider about medicine side effects.
  • DO live a healthy lifestyle. Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and less fat. Keep to your ideal weight. Exercise.
  • DON’T miss follow-up health care provider appointments.

Contact the following sources:

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  • American Cancer Society
    Tel: (800) 227-2345
  • National Ovarian Cancer Coalition
    Tel: (888) 682-7426
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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