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Understanding Ovarian Cancer: Symptoms, causes, and treatments

Dr. Ajay KohliJun 23, 2024

The female reproductive system has a pair of ovaries, one ovary on either side of the uterus. These ovaries produce eggs and female hormones. When the cells in the ovaries grow abnormally and form a tumour, it is called Ovarian Cancer. The risk of developing Ovarian Cancer starts to increase from the age of 35 and reaches a peak between the ages of 55 to 64. Sometimes Ovarian Cancer runs in families. Read ahead to know more about this medical condition.




Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer 

When Ovarian Cancer first develops, the signs and symptoms are not very noticeable. And by the time the signs are noticed, the cancer is usually in an advanced state. This is because the symptoms can often be confused or overlap with other health conditions. 

Some of the signs and symptoms of Ovarian Cancer include the following.

  • Abdominal swelling or bloating or a constant feeling of pressure in the abdominal area

  • Pain or tenderness in the abdomen or pelvic area

  • No appetite or feeling full quickly after eating

  • Sudden weight loss without trying a diet or exercise

  • Severe fatigue

  • Constant back pain

  • Indigestion

  • Passing gas

  • Change in bowel movements (diarrhoea or constipation)

  • Having an urge to urinate or urinating often

  • Bleeding from the vagina after the menopause

Causes of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian Cancer commonly affects women over the age of 50. The cause of Ovarian Cancer is not very clear. However, over time some of the risk factors have been identified.

Doctors know that Ovarian Cancer occurs when there is a sudden change (mutation) in the cells of the ovaries or the cells nearby. These changes can cause the healthy cells to grow quickly and create a tumour (cancerous cells) within the ovaries. 

Sometimes, the cancerous mass breaks off from its initial tumour area and spreads to neighbouring tissues (metastasis), thus causing cancer to spread to other parts of the body.

Types of Ovarian Cancers

The type of cell in which the cancer forms determines the type of Ovarian Cancer and helps your doctor decide which treatment is best for you.

The different types of Ovarian Cancer include the following.

  • Epithelial Ovarian Cancer: This is the most common type of Ovarian Cancer. It begins in the cells that cover the ovary. It also has two related epithelial cancers that spread to the ovaries, namely: Fallopian Tube Cancer, Primary Peritoneal Cancer.

  • Stromal tumours: These uncommon tumours are normally recognized at an advanced level than different Ovarian Cancers.

  • Germ cell tumours: These are rare Ovarian Cancers that usually occur at a younger age.

Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer

To find out if you have Ovarian Cancer, your healthcare provider will perform or order certain tests. These include the following.

  • A physical exam called pelvic exam.

  • Ask about your family’s medical history. If anything seems suspicious, they can ask for a genetic test to be performed.

  • Imaging tests, such as ultrasound or CT scans of your abdomen and pelvis.

  • Blood tests, such as CA-125 blood tests.

  • Sometimes, to confirm the presence of cancer, a biopsy is performed. A biopsy is a laboratory examination of ovarian tissue that shows if you have a tumour or not. A biopsy is done during surgery to remove the tumour.

Treatment of Ovarian Cancer 

Treatment for Ovarian Cancer depends on how much it has been spread. Ovarian Cancer is more treatable if it’s diagnosed early. Often, one or a combination of the following treatments are used. 

Surgery: Surgical operations to remove Ovarian Cancer include the following.

  • Surgery to remove one ovary: When cancer has spread to only one ovary. The surgeon removes the affected ovary and its connected fallopian tube. 

  • Surgery to remove both ovaries: When cancer has spread to both ovaries. The surgeon removes both the ovaries and both fallopian tubes.

  • Surgery to remove both ovaries and the uterus: If the cancer is spread extensively and the patient does not plan on having a child/children in the future, the surgeon will suggest the removal of the uterus along with the removal of both ovaries.

  • Surgery for advanced cancer: For an advanced stage, surgery is recommended to remove as much cancer as possible. Sometimes, surgery is followed by chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy: It is a drug treatment that kills cancer cells to stop their fast growth. Sometimes, it is given before the surgical treatment and in some cases later. Your cancer doctor will best decide what is suitable for cancer cases.

Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy works by killing specific cancer cells by targeting a protein or any other components of the cancer cells. This will help eliminate cancer from the body.

Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy works best for some types of slow-growing Ovarian Cancers. In hormone therapy, drugs are used to block the effects of the hormone oestrogen on Ovarian Cancer cells. This is because some Ovarian Cancer cells use oestrogen to boost their growth. 

Immunotherapy: Immunotherapyuses the immune system to fight cancer. This is because cancer cells produce proteins that help them hide from immune system cells, the body's disease-fighting immune system may not attack them. Immunotherapy works by disrupting that process.

Supportive (Palliative) care: Palliative care is often used as an add-on therapy to the main treatment. Palliative care is a type of specialised medical care that focuses on relieving pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. 

Risk factors of Ovarian Cancers

Some people have an increased chance of getting Ovarian Cancer. This occurrence is estimated if you have any of the following.

  • Previously had breast or bowel cancer

  • Currently have diabetes or endometriosis

  • Have an inherited faulty gene, such as BRCA genes

  • Started your periods early at a young age or went through late menopause

  • Have a cancer history or taken radiation therapy

  • Are overweight

  • Smoking

Prevention of Ovarian Cancer is not entirely up to you, but some of the risk factors can be reduced. These mainly include maintaining a healthy weight and stopping smoking, if you do smoke.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and answers related to Ovarian Cancer.

Will I be able to conceive if my ovaries are removed?


Your ability to conceive depends on the number of ovaries removed.

  • If a single ovary is removed during the surgery, your ability to conceive is still preserved.

  • If both the ovaries are removed during the surgery, you can still become pregnant. The surgery only removes the ovaries, but keeps your uterus intact. You can later become pregnant using your own frozen eggs or with eggs from a donor.

Can my ovaries grow back?


New ovarian tissue does not grow. Complete removal of the ovaries during a surgical procedure ensures that no remnants are left behind.

Can diet help in preventing Ovarian Cancer?


Foods like beans, eggs, nuts, and other food items that provide Vitamin D, as well as food items high in Vitamin A like carrots, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes can help lower the risk of Ovarian Cancer.

Does taking oral contraceptives help lower the risk of Ovarian Cancer?


Some studies have shown that women with a history of taking oral contraceptives are found to have up to 50% fewer chances of developing Ovarian Cancer.

Are there any screening tests for Ovarian Cancer?


The 2 tests used most often (in addition to a complete pelvic exam) to screen for Ovarian Cancer are transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) and the CA-125 blood test.




Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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