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Ovarian Cancer

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Posted by on Monday, March 7, 2011, 5:33
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Cancer occurs when cells undergo a transformation and begin to grow and multiply without normal controls. As the cells grow and multiply, they form masses called tumors. Cancer is dangerous because it overwhelms healthy cells by taking their space and the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive and function.

Ovarian cancer occurs when a tumor forms in one or both of a woman’s ovaries. The ovaries are a pair of small organs that produce and release ova, or human eggs. The ovaries also produce important hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. They are located in the lower abdomen (pelvis), on either side of the womb (uterus). Ova released by the ovaries travel through the fallopian tubes to the uterus, where they may or may not be fertilized by the male sperm.

In a process called metastasis, malignant tumors may encroach on and invade neighboring organs or lymph nodes, or they may enter the bloodstream and spread to remote organs such as the liver or lungs. Metastatic tumors are the most aggressive and serious of all tumors.

Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian Cancer

*Ovarian cancer facts medically edited by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Most ovarian growths in women under age 30 are benign, fluid-filled cysts.
There are several types of ovarian cancer.
The exact causes of ovarian cancer are unknown.
Risk factors that increase the chance of developing ovarian cancer include a family history of cancer, being over 55 years of age, and never being pregnant.
The ovarian cancer symptoms and signs can be vague but may include abdominal swelling, pressure, or pain, frequent urination or urinary urgency, back pain, leg pain, unusual vaginal bleeding, and feeling full quickly.
There are no routine screening tests for ovarian cancer.
A physical examination (including pelvic exam), ultrasound, X-rays, the CA 125 blood test, and biopsy of the ovary may be needed to detect and diagnose ovarian cancer and determine staging.
The treatment, prognosis, and survival rate for ovarian cancer depend on the stage of the disease and the age and health of the woman.
The ovaries
The ovaries are part of a woman’s reproductive system. They are in the pelvis. Each ovary is about the size of an almond.
The ovaries make the female hormones — estrogen and progesterone. They also release eggs. An egg travels from an ovary through a fallopian tube to the womb (uterus).
When a woman goes through her “change of life” (menopause), her ovaries stop releasing eggs and make far lower levels of hormones.

Understanding ovarian cancer

Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up tissues. Tissues make up the organs of the body.

Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place.

Sometimes, this orderly process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should. These extra cells can form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.

Tumors can be benign or malignant:

Benign tumors are not cancer:

Benign tumors are rarely life-threatening.
Generally, benign tumors can be removed. They usually do not grow back.
Benign tumors do not invade the tissues around them.
Cells from benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.

Malignant tumors are cancer:

Malignant tumors are generally more serious than benign tumors. They may be life-threatening.
Malignant tumors often can be removed. But sometimes they grow back.
Malignant tumors can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs.

Cells from malignant tumors can spread to other parts of the body. Cancer cells spread by breaking away from the original (primary) tumor and entering the lymphatic system or bloodstream. The cells invade other organs and form new tumors that damage these organs. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.

Benign and malignant cysts

An ovarian cyst may be found on the surface of an ovary or inside it. A cyst contains fluid. Sometimes it contains solid tissue too. Most ovarian cysts are benign (not cancer).
Most ovarian cysts go away with time. Sometimes, a doctor will find a cyst that does not go away or that gets larger. The doctor may order tests to make sure that the cyst is not cancer.

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer can invade, shed, or spread to other organs:
A malignant ovarian tumor can grow and invade organs next to the ovaries, such as the fallopian tubes and uterus.

Shed: Cancer cells can shed (break off) from the main ovarian tumor. Shedding into the abdomen may lead to new tumors forming on the surface of nearby organs and tissues. The doctor may call these seeds or implants.

Spread: Cancer cells can spread through the lymphatic system to lymph nodes in the pelvis, abdomen, and chest. Cancer cells may also spread through the bloodstream to organs such as the liver and lungs.

When cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the original tumor. For example, if ovarian cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually ovarian cancer cells. The disease is metastatic ovarian cancer, not liver cancer. For that reason, it is treated as ovarian cancer, not liver cancer. Doctors call the new tumor “distant” or metastatic disease.

Risk factors

Doctors cannot always explain why one woman develops ovarian cancer and another does not. However, we do know that women with certain risk factors may be more likely than others to develop ovarian cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of developing a disease.

Studies have found the following risk factors for ovarian cancer:

Family history of cancer: Women who have a mother, daughter, or sister with ovarian cancer have an increased risk of the disease. Also, women with a family history of cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum may also have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

If several women in a family have ovarian or breast cancer, especially at a young age, this is considered a strong family history. If you have a strong family history of ovarian or breast cancer, you may wish to talk to a genetic counselor. The counselor may suggest genetic testing for you and the women in your family. Genetic tests can sometimes show the presence of specific gene changes that increase the risk of ovarian cancer.

Personal history of cancer: Women who have had cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.

Age over 55: Most women are over age 55 when diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Never pregnant: Older women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Menopausal hormone therapy: Some studies have suggested that women who take estrogen by itself (estrogen without progesterone) for 10 or more years may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Scientists have also studied whether taking certain fertility drugs, using talcum powder, or being obese are risk factors. It is not clear whether these are risk factors, but if they are, they are not strong risk factors.

Having a risk factor does not mean that a woman will get ovarian cancer. Most women who have risk factors do not get ovarian cancer. On the other hand, women who do get the disease often have no known risk factors, except for growing older. Women who think they may be at risk of ovarian cancer should talk with their doctor.

Symptoms

Early ovarian cancer may not cause obvious symptoms. But, as the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back, or legs
A swollen or bloated abdomen
Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation, or diarrhea
Feeling very tired all the time

Less common symptoms include:

Shortness of breath
Feeling the need to urinate often
Unusual vaginal bleeding (heavy periods, or bleeding after menopause)
Most often these symptoms are not due to cancer, but only a doctor can tell for sure. Any woman with these symptoms should tell her doctor.

Diagnosis

If you have a symptom that suggests ovarian cancer, your doctor must find out whether it is due to cancer or to some other cause. Your doctor may ask about your personal and family medical history.

You may have one or more of the following tests. Your doctor can explain more about each test:

Physical exam: Your doctor checks general signs of health. Your doctor may press on your abdomen to check for tumors or an abnormal buildup of fluid (ascites). A sample of fluid can be taken to look for ovarian cancer cells.

Pelvic exam: Your doctor feels the ovaries and nearby organs for lumps or other changes in their shape or size. A Pap test is part of a normal pelvic exam, but it is not used to collect ovarian cells. The Pap test detects cervical cancer. The Pap test is not used to diagnose ovarian cancer.

Blood tests: Your doctor may order blood tests. The lab may check the level of several substances, including CA-125. CA-125 is a substance found on the surface of ovarian cancer cells and on some normal tissues. A high CA-125 level could be a sign of cancer or other conditions. The CA-125 test is not used alone to diagnose ovarian cancer. This test is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for monitoring a woman’s response to ovarian cancer treatment and for detecting its return after treatment.

Ultrasound: The ultrasound device uses sound waves that people cannot hear. The device aims sound waves at organs inside the pelvis. The waves bounce off the organs. A computer creates a picture from the echoes. The picture may show an ovarian tumor. For a better view of the ovaries, the device may be inserted into the vagina (transvaginal ultrasound).

Biopsy: A biopsy is the removal of tissue or fluid to look for cancer cells. Based on the results of the blood tests and ultrasound, your doctor may suggest surgery (a laparotomy) to remove tissue and fluid from the pelvis and abdomen. Surgery is usually needed to diagnose ovarian cancer. To learn more about surgery, see the “Treatment” section.

Although most women have a laparotomy for diagnosis, some women have a procedure known as laparoscopy. The doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube (a laparoscope) through a small incision in the abdomen. Laparoscopy may be used to remove a small, benign cyst or an early ovarian cancer. It may also be used to learn whether cancer has spread.

A pathologist uses a microscope to look for cancer cells in the tissue or fluid. If ovarian cancer cells are found, the pathologist describes the grade of the cells. Grades 1, 2, and 3 describe how abnormal the cancer cells look. Grade 1 cancer cells are not as likely as to grow and spread as grade 3 cells.

Treatment

Many women with ovarian cancer want to take an active part in making decisions about their medical care. It is natural to want to learn all you can about your disease and treatment choices. Knowing more about ovarian cancer helps many women cope.

Shock and stress after the diagnosis can make it hard to think of everything you want to ask your doctor. It often helps to make a list of questions before an appointment. To help remember what your doctor says, you may take notes or ask whether you may use a tape recorder. You may also want to have a family member or friend with you when you talk to your doctor-to take part in the discussion, to take notes, or just to listen.

You do not need to ask all your questions at once. You will have other chances to ask your doctor or nurse to explain things that are not clear and to ask for more details.

Your doctor may refer you to a gynecologic oncologist, a surgeon who specializes in treating ovarian cancer. Or you may ask for a referral. Other types of doctors who help treat women with ovarian cancer include gynecologists, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists. You may have a team of doctors and nurses.

Getting a second opinion

Before starting treatment, you might want a second opinion about your diagnosis and treatment plan. Many insurance companies cover a second opinion if you or your doctor requests it.

It may take some time and effort to gather medical records and arrange to see another doctor. In most cases, a brief delay in starting treatment will not make treatment less effective. To make sure, you should discuss this delay with your doctor. Sometimes women with ovarian cancer need treatment right away.

Treatment methods

Your doctor can describe your treatment choices and the expected results. Most women have surgery and chemotherapy. Rarely, radiation therapy is used.

Cancer treatment can affect cancer cells in the pelvis, in the abdomen, or throughout the body:

Local therapy: Surgery and radiation therapy are local therapies. They remove or destroy ovarian cancer in the pelvis. When ovarian cancer has spread to other parts of the body, local therapy may be used to control the disease in those specific areas.

Intraperitoneal chemotherapy: Chemotherapy can be given directly into the abdomen and pelvis through a thin tube. The drugs destroy or control cancer in the abdomen and pelvis.

Systemic chemotherapy: When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein, the drugs enter the bloodstream and destroy or control cancer throughout the body.

You may want to know how treatment may change your normal activities. You and your doctor can work together to develop a treatment plan that meets your medical and personal needs.

Because cancer treatments often damage healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common. Side effects depend mainly on the type and extent of the treatment. Side effects may not be the same for each woman, and they may change from one treatment session to the next. Before treatment starts, your health care team will explain possible side effects and suggest ways to help you manage them.

You may want to talk to your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial, a research study of new treatment methods. Clinical trials are an important option for women with all stages of ovarian cancer. The section on “The Promise of Cancer Research” has more information about clinical trials.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. A large machine directs radiation at the body.

Radiation therapy is rarely used in the initial treatment of ovarian cancer, but it may be used to relieve pain and other problems caused by the disease. The treatment is given at a hospital or clinic. Each treatment takes only a few minutes.

Side effects depend mainly on the amount of radiation given and the part of your body that is treated. Radiation therapy to your abdomen and pelvis may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or bloody stools. Also, your skin in the treated area may become red, dry, and tender. Although the side effects can be distressing, your doctor can usually treat or control them. Also, they gradually go away after treatment ends.

NCI provides a booklet called Radiation Therapy and You: A Guide to Self-Help During Cancer Treatment.

Supportive care

Ovarian cancer and its treatment can lead to other health problems. You may receive supportive care to prevent or control these problems and to improve your comfort and quality of life.

Your health care team can help you with the following problems:

Pain: Your doctor or a specialist in pain control can suggest ways to relieve or reduce pain. More information about pain control can be found in the NCI booklets Pain Control: A Guide for People with Cancer and Their Families, Get Relief from Cancer Pain, and Understanding Cancer Pain.

Swollen abdomen (from abnormal fluid buildup called ascites): The swelling can be uncomfortable. Your health care team can remove the fluid whenever it builds up.

Blocked intestine: Cancer can block the intestine. Your doctor may be able to open the blockage with surgery.

Swollen legs (from lymphedema): Swollen legs can be uncomfortable and hard to bend. You may find exercises, massages, or compression bandages helpful. Physical therapists trained to manage lymphedema can also help.

Shortness of breath: Advanced cancer can cause fluid to collect around the lungs. The fluid can make it hard to breathe. Your health care team can remove the fluid whenever it builds up.

Sadness: It is normal to feel sad after a diagnosis of a serious illness. Some people find it helpful to talk about their feelings. See the “Sources of Support” section for more information.

You can get information about supportive care on NCI’s Web site at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping and from NCI’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER or LiveHelp (http://www.cancer.gov/help).

Nutrition and physical activity

It’s important for women with ovarian cancer to take care of themselves. Taking care of yourself includes eating well and staying as active as you can.

You need the right amount of calories to maintain a good weight. You also need enough protein to keep up your strength. Eating well may help you feel better and have more energy.

Sometimes, especially during or soon after treatment, you may not feel like eating. You may be uncomfortable or tired. You may find that foods do not taste as good as they used to. In addition, the side effects of treatment (such as poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, or mouth sores) can make it hard to eat well. Your doctor, a registered dietitian, or another health care provider can suggest ways to deal with these problems. Also, the NCI booklet Eating Hints for Cancer Patients has many useful ideas and recipes.

Many women find they feel better when they stay active. Walking, yoga, swimming, and other activities can keep you strong and increase your energy. Whatever physical activity you choose, be sure to talk to your doctor before you start. Also, if your activity causes you pain or other problems, be sure to let your doctor or nurse know about it.

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1 Response to “Ovarian Cancer”

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    2012.03.21 13:40

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