As the name suggests, ovarian cancer refers to a malignant mass on the ovary or ovaries. The cancerous cells multiply at a fast rate, often spreading and destroying other healthy cells and body tissues. Ovarian cancers are usually assessed and treated by a gynecologist oncologist, a physician who specializes in reproductive tract cancers. If you are experiencing early signs of ovarian cancer, it is essential to be seen by a medical expert as soon as possible to improve your chances for a better prognosis.

What Is the Role of Your Ovaries?

The ovaries are a pair of glands in the female reproductive system. Located on either side of the uterus, ovaries are about the size of an almond each and play a crucial role in conception and menstruation. The ovaries release the eggs during ovulation and produce two crucial hormones: progesterone and estrogen.  

Progesterone and estrogen are steroid hormones and play vital roles in the female body by regulating body shape, breast development, and body hair. In addition, these two hormones are also essential in other reproductive functions like pregnancy, menstrual cycles, and fertility. 

What Are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?

Closeup of Sick Young Woman Suffering From Acute Side Back Pain

The early signs of ovarian cancer may often go unnoticed, and for some women, the disease may not produce any noticeable symptoms at first.

The problem is that when a malignant mass forms on the ovaries, the symptoms can be easily attributed to other gastrointestinal or gynecologic conditions.

Here Are Some of the More Common Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Back pain
  • Abdominal swelling or bloating
  • Quickly feeling full when sitting down to eat
  • Pelvic area discomfort
  • A frequent need to urinate
  • Constipation or other unusual bowel-movement changes

When experiencing these symptoms, women shouldn’t assume at first that they have a malignant mass on their ovaries, as these problems may very well signal other, more common (and less severe) medical conditions. Still, if these issues persist, lasting more than two weeks, it is important to schedule an appointment with your doctor to address these symptoms and rule out a possible malignancy.

What Causes Ovarian Cancer?

Unfortunately, the medical and scientific community is still unsure what directly leads to the formation of these malignant masses on the ovaries. However, doctors have managed to identify specific risk factors that may contribute to the disease’s development.

So far, experts have confirmed that ovarian tumors form when the cells near or directly in the ovaries show signs of DNA mutations. The DNA in these cells contains the code or instructions that are responsible for “telling” the ovarian cells how to perform their functions. The changes that happen in these cells instruct the cells to grow uncontrollably and quickly, forming a malignant mass on the ovaries.

These malignant cells then persist and can metastasize, invade, and spread to other tissues nearby, attacking attack other body parts as well.

Are There Different Types of Ovarian Tumors?

The cell type where the malignancy starts usually determines the type of ovarian mass patients have. This can also potentially help experts determine the best course of cancer treatment.

Ovarian tumors may be:

  • Stromal ovarian cancer: These are rare malignant masses that are generally diagnosed at earlier stages than most other types of ovarian cancers.
  • Germ cell cancers: These are relatively rare ovarian tumors that are primarily associated with younger patients.
  • Epithelial ovarian cancer: This is the most common ovarian malignancy that can have several subtypes such as mucinous and serous carcinomas.

What Are the Risk Factors for the Development of Ovarian Tumors?

All women are at risk for ovarian cancer. But there are several factors that may increase the possibility of developing the disease including: 

  • Genetic predispositions: A certain percentage of these malignancies can be caused by genetic changes that patients inherit from their parents. More precisely, experts have determined that there are several genes that may increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. For example, changes in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 may increase not just the risk of ovarian malignancies but may play a role in the development of breast cancer as well. Furthermore, gene mutations in RAD51C, BRIP1, and RAD51D genes may also increase the risk of ovarian tumors and lynch syndrome.
  • Family history: Those women who have blood relatives that have previously been diagnosed with ovarian cancer may be at a higher risk of developing the disease.
  • Age: As with most other malignancies, the risk of developing ovarian tumors increases with age. As a result, older women are most often diagnosed with these tumors.
  • Obesity or excess weight: Excess weight may also increase the risks of forming malignant ovarian masses.
  • Early menstruation and late menopause: Starting to menstruate early and entering menopause later may increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Hormone replacement therapy after menopause: Exogenous hormone administration for mitigating menopause symptoms, in some cases, may also lead to the development of the malignancy.
  • Endometriosis: This painful disorder that might also increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • No history of pregnancy: Those women who have never been pregnant might also be at a higher risk of developing malignant ovarian masses.

Are There Ways to Prevent Ovarian Cancer?

Abdominal Pain Patient Woman Having Medical Exam With Doctor

While there are no guaranteed ways to prevent ovarian cancer, there are preventative measures that can reduce the risks:

  • Discuss possible risk factors with your gynecologist: If you have a family history of ovarian cancer and breast malignancies, a conversation with your gynecologist can be helpful. You may be referred to a genetic counselor or, if cancer-inducing gene changes have been detected, you may be referred to a gynecologist oncologist to prophylactically remove your ovaries.
  • Consider using birth control pills: Women are also encouraged to ask their doctor about the possibility of taking oral contraceptives as a preventative measure. Birth control pills may reduce the risk of ovarian tumors but have other associated risks. A conversation with your health care provider can help you weigh the risks and benefits.

What Are the Treatments for Ovarian Cancer?

Treatment is based on the stage of the tumor and often consists of a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. It is preferable to find a gynecologist oncologist who not only performs the surgery but also coordinates, administers, and manages the chemo treatment in-house. Some chemo drugs are given orally and some intravenously. If the cancer is more advanced, you may need other types of treatment including radiation.

A diagnosis of ovarian cancer can be overwhelming and the treatment decisions can be challenging. Trust in your gynecologist oncologist is essential and finding a practice that can provide the best medical and surgical treatment as well as emotional support is essential.

At the Center for Gynecologic Oncology, our goal is to offer you the most up-to-date treatments and offer support and hope. With four locations in Miramar, Plantation, Hollywood, and Homestead, our practice is never far away.

Early detection of ovarian cancer improves your prognosis. Call us today and learn how we can help.