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Ovarian cancer: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer refers to the malignancy of the ovaries, which are located in the pelvic region. The cancer (abnormal growth of cells) in the ovary is known to invade adjacent body structures and thus is malignant in nature. This is a silent cancer, which generally does not exhibit any clinical symptoms in its early stage. In most of the cases, it is either an accidental diagnosis during regular gynaecological examinations or detected in later stages.

Ovarian cancer: Incidence, age and sex

Ovarian cancer is an uncommon malignant condition encountered in the general population. Although it may occur in any age group, it mainly afflicts women above the age of 50 years.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer: Diagnosis

Many individuals with ovarian cancer may not exhibit any symptoms, until the cancer has advanced to a later stage. However, some subtle symptoms may be complained of, by affected individuals during early stages. Such symptoms include a sense of discomfort in the pelvic region, painful sexual intercourse or pain in the lower back. The spread of cancer to the abdominal region may be presented by unexplained bloating, abdominal fullness or abdominal pain. Other non-specific features include nausea, vomiting, increased fatigue and distinct weight loss.

The dreadful part of ovarian cancer is that it is usually missed during early stage in most individuals, due to lack of symptoms. However, it may be detected during routine gynaecological examinations. Radiological testing like ultrasonography, is advised to establish the diagnosis. Sometimes, a blood test may also be done to detect the presence of specific cancer protein. Diagnostic laparoscopy may also be done to assess the extent and spread of ovarian cancer.

Causes and prevention of ovarian cancer

The exact cause of ovarian cancer is not very clear. However, certain risk factors like early menarche, delayed menopause, no children, use of fertility drugs or a positive family history may increase the chances of occurrence of malignant growth in ovary. Furthermore, personal history of breast cancer or colon cancer may also predispose individuals to ovarian cancer.

There are no specific preventive measures for ovarian cancer; but clinical studies have shown that timely pregnancy and breastfeeding may reduce the incidence of ovarian cancer. Regular gynaecological examinations, especially after the age of 35 years are advised. Such regular check ups may help in diagnosing this cancer at an earlier stage.

Ovarian cancer: Complications

Ovarian cancer is highly malignant and is known to spread to adjacent body structures in later stages. The cancer may spread to various sites including the abdominal region, fallopian tubes, uterus and bladder. It may also spread to lungs via blood at a very advanced stage.

Ovarian cancer: Treatment

The treatment modalities include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The surgical treatment combined with chemotherapy remains the mainstay of management of ovarian cancer. The surgery involves removal of both ovaries along with fallopian tubes and uterus. However, in women where the cancer has not spread beyond ovary and who wish to continue their reproductive cycle, only the affected ovary is removed and radiation is (high energy rays) given thereafter. The prognosis of ovarian cancer depends upon the stage of cancer. Early detection and treatment of cancer in early stages, carries a positive outcome. Unfortunately, most cases may not be diagnosed timely, due to lack of symptoms.