When a cancerous growth or tumour develops in one or both the ovaries, the condition is known as cancer of the ovary/ovaries. It is the fifth most common type of cancer women suffer from, and is the cause of high death rate in women. Although the cause of this condition in the ovary is not known, the tumour sometimes develops from an ovarian cyst. The women who have never had children or have had a late menopause are at a higher risk of developing this cancer. Also, women with a close relative who developed the cancer of the ovary before the age of 50 years pose a risk. This condition of the ovary is rare under the age of 40, while it is most common between 50 and 70 years of age. There seem to be hormonal and genetic risk factors responsible for the development of this disease.
The most dangerous part about the cancer of the ovary is that it rarely produces any symptoms in the early stages. However, there are chances that the person shows symptoms of ovarian cysts like irregular periods. In most cases, symptoms occur only if it has spread to other organs and may include:
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Swelling in the abdomen caused by excess fluid.
- Frequent need to pass urine
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding in rare cases
A person may also depict general symptoms of the condition such as loss of weight, nausea and vomiting. If left untreated, the cancer may spread to other organs of the body like liver or lungs, making it more complicated and serious.
Diagnosis & treatment
A regular medical check-up after the age of 40, especially if a close relative has had cancer of the ovary, is advisable. The check-up can help you to detect cancerous changes in the ovary at an early stage, and thus you can start the treatment well in advance. You may be offered ultrasound scanning through the vagina or abdomen to look for a tumour or blood tests to look for a specific protein produced by the cancer. The doctor may also examine your abdomen for swellings and lumps. Other tests that the doctor may prescribe you are MRI, CT scanning of lungs or liver to check if the disease has spread to other parts of the body.
If cancer of the ovary is detected in a woman who wishes to have children, the doctor may remove the affected ovary and fallopian tube. If it has spread to other parts of the reproductive tract, or if the woman does not wish to have children, a total hysterectomy may be performed. This is a surgery, which removes uterus and both the fallopian tubes and ovaries. The surgery is followed by chemotherapy to kill the remaining cancer cells. If it has already spread to other parts of the body, radiotherapy may also be given. After the treatment, blood tests and physical examinations are carried out regularly to check for recurrence.
A complete recovery is possible only if the condition is diagnosed and treated in its early stages. However, by the time of diagnosis, in around three in four women, the disease has already spread. In these women, chemotherapy can prevent further spread of the cancer, sometimes for years. But, the chances of complete elimination of cancer are bleak.