Ovarian cancer
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A woman has two ovaries which are responsible for the production of eggs and are about the size of two almonds. The ovaries also produce hormones that women need in order to bear children and maintain a specific level of health. Ovarian cancer is the production of cancerous cells within one or both ovaries. Research dealing with ovarian cancer has become a much higher priority over the past decade.

Ovarian cancer was once considered a death sentence, but with advancements in technology as well as cancer treatments, patients with ovarian cancer are now increasing the survival rate. About 20,000 women are annually diagnosed with ovarian cancer while 15,000 women will die from ovarian cancer. This may not seem like a huge leap in progress, but those who are surviving are experiencing remission and those who are not are still able to have an increased quality of life compared to even just ten years ago.


It was once thought that ovarian cancer had no accompanying symptoms. Researchers now realize that many women do have symptoms, even in the early stages of ovarian cancer, which can assist with earlier diagnosis. Symptoms of ovarian cancer often confuse physicians as they are likely to mimic other disorders and diseases. Symptoms in the earlier stages of ovarian cancer may include pain or pressure in the pelvic region, swelling and abdominal discomfort, the feeling of a “full” abdomen, and the need to urinate frequently and urgently.
Ovarian cancer
Image: Ovarian cancer

Symptoms in the latter stages of ovarian cancer can include persistent and constant indigestion, gas, and bloating, weight loss, weight gain, loss of appetite, fatigue, an increase in the girth of the abdomen, the need to urinate constantly and urgently, lower back pain, pain during sexual activity, unexplained bowel changes including diarrhea or constipation, and a sense of expanding throughout the abdominal region. Most women are diagnosed between 3 and 6 months after the onset of symptoms.


Ovarian cancer is the result of the overgrowth of unhealthy cells that form a tumor. Cancer of any form is caused by cells that reproduce at an abnormal rate and can not be controlled. While researchers do not always agree, there are those who believe that ovarian cancer is the result of the natural process women’s ovaries go through after the release of an egg, which tears the tissue and the repairs itself. Cancerous cells are cells that grow out of control, and thus there is logic to the theory that the cells may reproduce too quickly and become cancerous.

There are 3 types of ovarian tumors which are named for their location. Epithelial tumors are the most common type of ovarian tumor, and form on the layers of the surface of the ovaries. Germ cell tumors typically attack younger women and are known to form in the cells which produce the egg. Stromal tumors form in the tissue that produces estrogen and progesterone and is responsible for holding the ovaries together.
Image: Cancer


Risk factors for ovarian cancer include age, genetic predisposition, inherited gene mutations, ovarian cysts, infertility, hormone replacement therapy, and a lack of children despite the ability to bear children. While research has not determined exactly why, women who have at least one child during their child bearing years are less likely to develop ovarian cancer. Patients often find genetic links to other family members who have had ovarian cancer. Obesity in the latter teens or early adulthood has been known to be an additional risk factor for ovarian cancer.


Diagnostic screening for ovarian cancer does not yet exist. While cancer screenings are done for pre-symptomatic patients to determine the presence or absence of cancer, there is not an effective tool for determining the existence of ovarian cancer before symptoms develop. The current screening available for ovarian cancer often leads to a high amount of false positive readings and unnecessary surgical procedures. Pelvic examinations, ultrasound imaging, and blood tests to determine the presence and elevated levels of the CA 125 protein can detect the presence of ovarian cancer after the symptoms begin.


The first line of treatment is typically a surgical procedure to remove either one or both ovaries. In women of childbearing age with the desire to have children in the future, one ovary is usually left behind if it is deemed possible. Chemotherapy treatments are added to the surgical removal of the ovary to help kill the cancerous cells. Pain is typically managed with morphine or other analgesics and nutritional and spiritual therapies are often added to help maintain strength and will. Foods rich in protein and high energy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with the nutrients to help a cancer patient maintain strength and fight cancer cells.
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