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Ovarian Cancer

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Ovarian cancer is a term used to describe the cancer of the ovaries. In the following article, you shall learn all about ovarian cancer and its types.

What are Ovaries?

The two small, oval-shaped organs present in the pelvis region of a woman are called as the ovaries. They are a major part of the female reproductive system. The female reproductive system consists of the ovaries, Fallopian tube, uterus, cervix and the vagina.

What is the Function of Ovaries?

There are two ovaries, each about 2-4 cm in size. They are present on either of the uterus. They produce hormones progesterone and estrogen. Each ovary contains germ cells. These germ cells develop into an ova (egg). Thus, ovaries play a major role in regulation of the monthly menstruation cycle as well as development of the female characteristics of the body.

What is Ovarian Cancer?

When a group of abnormal cells starts growing uncontrollably and develop cancer in one or both ovaries, is called as ovarian cancer. The cancer can occur in and around the cells of the ovary. Thus, leading to different types of cancer depending on the cells and tissues it originates from.

When the cells divide uncontrollably, they lead to the formation of tumors. Not all tumors are cancerous. When they can either be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The cancerous cells can metastasize to other organs in the abdomen and pelvis region or they can spread to other parts of the body by entering the bloodstream.

Ovarian cancer proves to be more fatal than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. This is because ovarian cancer is mostly caught when it has spread and reached an advanced stage. If caught early on, it is very easy to treat. Thus, making it very important to note the signs and symptoms and understand anything abnormal within your body

Who is at Risk for Ovarian Cancer?

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All women come under the risk for ovarian cancer. However, women over the age of 40 years and over are at higher risk of developing cancer. Ovarian cancer is the 8th most common and 5th leading cause of death by cancer. It makes up only 3% of all female reproductive cancers, but is the most fatal of all. Thus, early detection and treatment not just curbs the spread of cancer, but helps save lives.

Types of Ovarian Cancers

As mentioned before, there are different types of ovarian cancers depending on the type of cell or tissue affected. The four major types of ovarian cancers include:

Epithelial Ovarian Cancer

The cancer that occurs in the epithelial cells of the ovary is called as epithelial ovarian cancer. It is the most common type and seen in about 90% of the cases. Some of the subtypes of epithelial ovarian cancer include:

  • Serous
  • Mucinous
  • Endometrioid
  • Clear Cell
  • Primary Peritoneal Cancer
  • Undifferentiated or Unclassified cancer

Borderline Tumors

This is a type of tumor of the epithelial cells that is not as aggressive as the epithelial ovarian cancer. It is also called as low malignant potential tumor (LMP tumor). These tumors have a better prognosis, irrespective of early or late detection. Surgery alone can help in treating this type of cancer.

Germ Cell Tumors

This type of cancer affects the germ cells that develop into eggs. It affects women under the age of 30 and accounts for 5% of ovarian cancers. The subtypes include:

  • Teratoma
  • Dysgerminoma
  • Endodermal sinus tumor and choriocarcinoma

Sex-cord Stromal Cell Ovarian Cancer

The cells that release hormones are affected by this cancer. The cancer begins in the connective cells that hold the ovaries together. It can affect women of any age group.

Some other very rare types of ovarian cancers include:

  • Dysgerminoma
  • Choriocarcinoma
  • Endodermal sinus tumors
  • Embryonal carcinoma
  • Sertoli-Leydig tumors

Causes of Ovarian Cancer

The exact causes of ovarian cancer are yet not known. However, there are many factors that are known to increase the risk of developing ovarian cancers. These risks include:

  • Hormonal factors increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. This may include starting periods at a young age, late menopause, stopping medications used for hormone replacement therapy.
  • Women who never gave birth have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Mutations in specific genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2 can lead to ovarian cancer.
  • A family history of colon, gastrointestinal, uterine cancer increases the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Women with endometriosis suffer from slightly greater risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Risk of mucinous cancer increases in women who smoke.
  • Obesity is another risk factor for ovarian cancer.

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

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Symptoms of ovarian cancer are similar to other conditions. Thus, many times they are overlooked as ovarian cancer. Many doctors are not aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Some of the signs and symptoms include:

  • Abdomen feels full or appears swollen or bloated
  • Pain in the pelvis region
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain in the stomach or back
  • Urgency to pass urine often
  • Clothes start fitting clothes tighter around the waist
  • Fatigue
  • Lower back pain
  • Constipation
  • Constant gas, nausea and indigestion


The tests for ovarian cancer include:

  • Pelvic examination where the doctor will insert two fingers or a speculum in the vagina, and press the abdomen with the other hand to feel the uterus and ovaries.
  • Ultrasound examination to check the images of the ovaries and the uterus.
  • Surgery to take tissue samples of the ovary to confirm cancer with the help of biopsy.
  • The CA 125 blood test is a test where high levels of protein CA 125 indicate ovarian cancer.
  • CT scans
  • Image-guide biopsy

Treatment for Ovarian Cancer

There are basically three treatments for ovarian cancer. These include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The treatment given depends on the extent,spread and type of cancer.


All women with ovarian cancer will have to undergo surgery for treatment of ovarian cancer. The surgery required depends on the extent of spread of the cancer. Just the ovary or ovaries, Fallopian tube or total hysterectomy  may be carried out.

If both ovaries and uterus is removed, the patient will not longer be able to have a baby naturally. However, if just one ovary is removed, one can get pregnant.


Chemotherapy drugs will be given to kill cancer cells.There are various drugs that are used for chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can be given either orally or is injected into muscles or a vein.


Radiotherapy uses high-energy x-ray to kill cancer cells. Radiation helps to shrink tumors..

If you are worried or want more information related to ovarian cancer, speak to your doctor. Ovarian cancer is one of the most dangerous cancers of the female reproductive system. Early detection is the only way to save a life.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 13, 2015