Do You Know About the Silent Killer? Read on for More About Ovarian Cancer

Known as the "silent killer," ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose. This type of cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the ovaries start to multiply beyond normal progression and form a tumor. If the cancer is not detected and treated, it can spread to other areas of the body. While detecting and treating ovarian cancer is not easy, here are a few things to know so that you are more informed about this challenging disease.

Early Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

One of the most challenging aspects of diagnosing ovarian cancer is that there are no obvious symptoms that present in most patients in the early stages of the disease. Because of their similarities, many women simply mistake the symptoms for digestive issues. The most common early indicators of ovarian cancer are abdominal bloating and pressure, difficulty eating because of a feeling of fullness, and an increased need to urinate. Other less common symptoms include heartburn, constipation, indigestion, fatigue, back pain, and painful sexual intercourse. As the tumor continues to grow, these symptoms will persist and become more intense.

Types of Ovarian Cancer

There are three types of ovarian cancer, representing the types of cells that reside in the ovaries.

  • Epithelial Tumors - Accounting for approximately 90% of ovarian cancers, this type forms in the layer of the tissue that envelops the outside of the ovaries.

  • Stromal Tumors - This type of ovarian cancer grows and multiplies in the hormone-producing cells. Stromal tumors make up 7% of all ovarian cancers.

  • Germ Cell Tumors - These tumors that take root in the egg-producing cells are extremely rare, accounting for less than 3% of all ovarian cancers.

Risk Factors of Ovarian Cancer

Although it is important to remember that ovarian cancer can strike any women, there are some identified risk factors that will increase the chances of developing this disease. Most women develop ovarian cancer after menopause, making this a cancer that is more common in the older population. A family history of ovarian cancer or the genetic mutations associated with this type of cancer also increases the risk. Women who have never been pregnant or those who experienced endometriosis are also at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. A personal history of uterine, colon, or breast cancer may also lead to the appearance of tumors in the ovaries.

Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer

Unfortunately, there is no routine diagnostic screening available for ovarian cancer. This makes it important to be aware of your normal body functions so that you can report any unusual symptoms. If you report your concerns to a doctor, there are a number of tools that they can use to diagnose the cancer. A transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) uses sound waves to find tumors in the reproductive organs. Other techniques used to learn more about the symptoms include an abdominal and pelvic CT scan or a blood test to measure the cancer antigen levels. If the doctor seriously suspects ovarian cancer, they will likely order a biopsy for the final confirmation.

Treating Ovarian Cancer

As with all types of cancer, it is much easier to treat the disease if it is diagnosed in its early stages. The staging and aggressiveness of the cancer will dictate the treatment protocol. Surgery to attempt to remove the tumor is the most common first step in treating the disease. This may necessitate a complete hysterectomy or removal of the ovaries in order to get all of the cancer.

Targeted therapies such as radiation or chemotherapy may also be used to shrink the tumors and prevent the cancer from migrating to other parts of the body. Your doctor may also recommend various forms of hormone therapy to target the cancer cells and mitigate the risk that they pose to the rest of the organs.

It is no surprise to learn that these invasive treatments may make it difficult to become pregnant in the future. If you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer during your child-bearing years, there are steps that you can take to preserve your fertility.

No cancer diagnosis is easy to digest. However, knowing what you are facing will give you the information and the courage that you need to confront this diagnosis with the highest chance of success.

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