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Ovarian Cancer

By: Jody Ehrhardt - Updated: 20 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
Ovarian Cancer Understanding Ovarian

Ovarian Cancer is a type of cancer that affects the ovaries. The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system. Early detection of the disease is the most important key to stopping its progression.

Understanding Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer develops when cells in the tissue of the ovaries forms in an irregular or abnormal pattern. Normal cell regeneration consists of new cells development only in areas where old cells have died. In the case of cancer new cells develop in areas where they are needed and old cells do not die and get reabsorbed by the body. This abnormal growth pattern results in the formation of tissue masses which can become malignant, or cancerous.

The Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Unfortunately, early stage ovarian cancer shows no, or only a few, symptoms. This lack of symptoms makes the disease extremely difficult to diagnose. In cases where symptoms do present early on the signs are often confused with or associated with the symptoms of other, less serious conditions.

Early symptoms of ovarian cancer include abnormal bleeding from the vagina, irregular menstrual cycles, pain in the lower abdomen, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

As the disease progresses symptoms of ovarian cancer can include weakness or fatigue, pain in the abdomen, lower back, pelvic area, or legs, swelling of the abdominal area, increase need to urinate, and shortness of breath. These symptoms are often associated with the enlarging of the tumour and are caused by pressure exerted by the mass on nearby organs and systems.

Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer

Since many of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, such as irregular bleeding or abdominal pain, mimic those of other conditions obtaining an accurate diagnosis can be difficult. If your doctor feels that you may be suffering from ovarian cancer there are a few tests that can be run that can help confirm the diagnosis.

A physical examination of the abdomen can be used to check for abdominal swelling and the presence of tumours or fluid accumulation. A pelvic exam can be used to check the health of the ovaries and to detect the formation of lumps. In some cases a blood test can be ran to check for the presence of CA-125. This substance is found in ovarian cancer cells and at high levels can indicate the presence of cancer.

If ovarian cancer is still suspected after the initial tests two other tests can be run to further confirm a diagnosis. The first test, an ultrasound, can be used to show the presence of tumours in the ovaries. In this procedure sound waves are aimed at the ovaries and the echoes they produce are shown as an image on a computer. This image allows the doctor to look at the ovaries and detect any abnormalities. The second test, a biopsy, is used if a tumour or abnormal mass is detected by the other tests. In this procedure a small sample of the abnormal tissue or fluid is taken with a needle. This sample is then analysed for the presence of cancer cells.

Treatment for Ovarian Cancer

Once a diagnosis of ovarian cancer is made the doctor will decide on a course of treatment. Treatment options are based on the size, location, and progression of the ovarian cancer. The most common types of treatment for ovarian cancer include surgery and chemotherapy. Surgery is used to remove the cancerous tumour and portion of tissue affected by the tumour. Depending on the progression of the disease surgery options include a salpingo-oophorectomy (the removal of both ovaries and the fallopian tubes), a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), and an omentum (the removal of the fatty tissue that covers the intestines). Chemotherapy, the systemic use of anti-cancer drugs, can be used along with surgery or alone to destroy cancer cells and treat ovarian cancer. In this procedure the drugs are given orally or injected into the vein, so that they can travel to the site of cancer and kill the abnormal cells.

Both treatment options can be very effective at eliminating ovarian cancer cells, however, if the disease has progressed too far the treatment may not lead to a complete cure.

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