Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that originates in the tissue of one or both of a woman’s ovaries, which are the female reproductive organs that produce eggs. The most common type of ovarian cancer is ovarian epithelial cancer (cancer that begins in the cells of the surface of the ovary).
Ovarian cancer accounts for nearly three percent of all cancers among women and ranks second among gynecologic cancers. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that there will be 21,880 new cases of ovarian cancer in the U.S. by the end of 2010.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
Symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague and mimic other more common conditions such as digestive disorders. Symptoms of ovarian cancer may include pain in or swelling of the abdomen. Other symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:
- back pain
- persistent fatigue
- pelvic pain
- frequent urges to urinate
- constipation or diarrhea
- vaginal bleeding
- loss of appetite, feeling full quickly when eating
- menstrual irregularity or missed period
- unintentional weight loss or gain
Women over the age of 50 are at a higher risk of ovarian cancer. Other risks include:
- family history of ovarian cancer
- family history of breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer
- genetic factors
- personal history of breast cancer (or uterine or colorectal cancer)
- infertility, never pregnant
Early Detection and Treatment
According to the American Cancer Society, less than 20 percent of ovarian cancers are found in the early stage. Early detection is vital to surviving the disease; the prevalence of late detection unfortunately makes ovarian cancer the fifth highest cause of cancer death in women. Treatment often depends on how much the cancer has grown and if it has spread to other parts of the body. Usually surgery is used to remove one or both of the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, uterus, nearby lymph nodes, and possibly other tissues. Chemotherapy may be used after surgery to treat any remaining cancerous cells.