What you should know about ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer is a disease commonly marked by symptoms that may mimic other, less-serious conditions, such as constipation and gallbladder issues. For a proper diagnosis, gynecologic oncologists recommend that you see a doctor for persistent symptoms, including pelvic pain or pressure, a more frequent or urgent need to urinate, a sense that you feel full too quickly after eating or you have difficulty eating, as well as constipation, bloating, or abdominal or back pain.
Because there are no available screenings for ovarian cancer and its symptoms may be overlooked or mistaken for other maladies, the disease often isn’t diagnosed until it has advanced beyond the pelvic region, when symptoms are typically more severe.
Receiving your diagnosis and personalized treatment plan as early as possible may be key to your overall health and potential outcomes.
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer develops in the ovaries, the female reproductive organs that store eggs and produce hormones. The most common type of ovarian cancer is epithelial cancer, which originates in the layer of cells that cover the ovaries and the abdominal cavity. This disease accounts for about 85 percent to 90 percent of all ovarian cancer cases.
What is the difference between ovarian cancer and an ovarian cyst?
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop on one or both ovaries. Typically, ovarian cysts are not cancerous—although they may cause similar symptoms, such as pelvic pain, a feeling of pressure in the abdomen and difficulty emptying the bladder. Cysts often develop with a woman’s menstrual cycle during her reproductive years. Post-menopausal women with ovarian cysts have a higher risk of cancer.
What is the difference between fallopian tube cancer, peritoneal cancer and ovarian cancer?
The fallopian tubes are thought to be the source of some ovarian cancers. It is rare for cancers to spread from other parts of the body to the fallopian tubes; they typically spread to the ovaries. Peritoneal cancer develops in the peritoneum, the lining that covers the surface of the ovaries and other organs in the abdominal cavity.
Although these cancer types differ in origin and other factors, ovarian, fallopian tube and peritoneal cancers are often treated with the same approach and techniques.
What causes ovarian cancer?
It’s not clear why some women develop ovarian cancer while others don’t, but the risk of developing the disease increases with age. Other factors that may increase your risk of ovarian cancer include:
- Pregnancy over the age of 35
- A history of never carrying a pregnancy to term
- Use of fertility drugs
- Use of androgens
- A family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer or colorectal cancer
- A personal history of breast cancer
- A known genetic mutation (e.g., BRCA1 or BRCA2)
What type of doctor should I see if I think I have ovarian cancer?
If you are experiencing symptoms of ovarian cancer or if you have an undiagnosed pelvic mass, consider seeing a gynecologic oncologist. Gynecologic oncologists are trained and experienced in treating cancers of the female reproductive system. They typically perform the surgical aspects of ovarian cancer treatment, as well as managing chemotherapy, hormone therapy and other treatments involved.