Ovarian Cancer: Symptoms, Stages, Causes, Medicines & Treatments
Commonly asked questions about ovarian cancer:
- What is ovarian cancer?
- Risk factors
- Ovarian cancer treatments
- How to prevent cancer
- What drugs are used to treat ovarian cancer?
What Is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a form of cancer whose initial growth occurs in the ovaries. Oftentimes, it is able to spread from the ovaries through the pelvis and abdomen unbeknownst to the individual afflicted. This tendency to spread prior to being detected makes the disease exceptionally deadly.
As the cancer spreads, the cancer becomes harder to treat, becoming far deadlier than cancer isolated in the ovaries. If it is detected and treated prior to spreading throughout the body, treatment methods are typically very effective.
While ovarian cancer diagnosed and treated early in development has a five-year survival rate of 90%, ovarian cancer diagnosed after stage III carries a five-year survival rate of only 20%. Yearly statistics indicate that nearly 22,280 new cases are diagnosed every year with 14,000 ovarian cancer-related deaths each year.
According to the American Cancer Society, “Ovarian cancer accounts for about 3% of cancers among women, but it causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.” It is so prominent in women that it is reported that 1 in 75 women will be diagnosed with the disease within their lifetime.
Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors
Who Is At Risk Of Getting Ovarian Cancer?
While all women are at risk of developing ovarian cancer, there are several factors both controllable and uncontrollable that can cause some women to be more susceptible to developing the cancer than others.
Some of the uncontrollable risk factors include age and genetic predisposition.
Regarding age, women between the ages of 50 and 60 are most commonly diagnosed.
Regarding genetics, the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition estimates that nearly 15% of all diagnoses are due to genetic predisposition or other hereditary factors. Heredity ovarian cancer is most commonly related to mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes as families carrying these mutations regularly report a development rate far greater than is standard.
While these mutations typically occur in 1 out of 500 people, those who have an Ashkenazi Jewish background experience a mutation rate of 1 in 40 people.
In addition to the aforementioned gene mutations, Lynch Syndrome also reportedly increases the occurrence rate of development. Those with Lynch Syndrome carry a 9-12% chance of development as opposed to the 1.3% regular individuals carry.
Outside of genetic risk factors that cannot be controlled by an individual, there are several risk factors that are present because of intentional actions.
These risk factors include engaging in large dose, long-term estrogen hormone replacement therapy in addition to the following:
- Never Being Pregnant
- Engaging In Fertility Treatment
- Using An Intrauterine Device
The more risk factors are identified in an individual, the more vigilant one should be in detecting any possible ovarian cancer development.
How Can I Reduce My Risk Of Ovarian Cancer?
There is no way to completely eliminate the risk of developing ovarian cancer but there are methods that can be employed to reduce the risk. Some of these methods, as identified by the NOCC and CDC, include the following:
- Oral Contraception
- Tubal Litigation
- Prophylactic Oophorectomy
- Healthy Lifestyle
While these endeavors may be associated with a lower risk of development, they should not be pursued in an effort to prevent the condition.
Ovarian Cancer Causes
How Do I Get Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is similar to all forms of cancer in that the direct causes of the condition remain unknown to researchers. While an individual may reduce their risk, there is no way to completely prevent the cancer from developing.
Regarding the process of developing the cancer, it occurs when genetic mutations trigger experience extreme growth in cells that eventual becomes a tumor. These cells metastasizing is what causes the cancer to spread throughout the body.
A unique trait in ovarian cancer development is the ability for the condition to take three different forms, depending on the initial location of abnormal cell growth.
Most ovarian cancers – over 90% according to the Mayo Clinic – develop as epithelial tumors. These tumors occur in a layer of tissue covering the outside of the ovaries.
Other forms are stromal tumors which develop in ovarian tissue containing hormone-producing cells and germ cell tumors that develop in egg-producing cells. Germ cell tumors typically occur in younger women and account for only 3% of cases while stromal tumors account for the remaining 7%.
What Are Medications That Cause Ovarian Cancer?
With dozens of medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration each year, some drugs become introduced to the market without all of their side effects being disclosed to the public. However, the nature of ovarian cancer prevents it from being directly caused by many oral medications. As reported by the FDA there is only one major drug with medical data supporting a link between use and development.
Talcum powder is a white powder used to absorb moisture and reduce friction. Talc naturally contains trace amounts of asbestos, a cancerous substance. While companies claim the asbestos is neutralized in their products, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) identifies talcum powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” With the IARC claiming that talcum powder may cause cancer and women who regularly use talcum powder around their genitals reporting the development of ovarian cancer, claims of a talcum powder-ovarian cancer relationship are being substantiated.
Ovarian Cancer Complications
Early-stage ovarian cancer is difficult to detect due in part to their location deep inside the abdominal cavity and the infrequency in the development of noticeable symptoms.
For decades, the medical community believed that regardless of the stage of development, ovarian cancer would not develop any noticeable symptoms.
However, after extensive medical studies, it has been determined that as ovarian cancer develops into later stages the body will begin showing noticeable symptoms. Because symptoms often indicate that the disease has developed into a later stage, it is important that symptom discovery is followed by immediate medical attention.
Bloating is the feeling of built-up gas in the digestive system that will cause the stomach to uncomfortably protrude out. The condition is and appears far different than standard weight gain around the waist with some describing it as appearing pregnant.
The pelvis is located in the lower part of the abdomen and contains the bowel, bladder, womb, and ovaries. When suffering from ovarian cancer, pelvic pain will start from the ovaries and follow the path of the cancer spread.
When suffering from ovarian cancer, an individual may see rapid shifts in eating tendencies. These rapid changes include having trouble eating adequate amounts or achieving the feeling of full too quickly. Many who suffer from this symptom report weight loss as a secondary effect of the cancer as they are no longer able to acquire the necessary nutrients to maintain their regular body weight.
With Ovaries residing in the same area as the bladder, growths in the ovaries may begin effecting the functionality of the bladder. When this occurs, the bladder may be unable to hold as much liquid as previous and will cause the individual to experience a frequent need to urinate. This feeling will occur far more often than typical and may become noticeable rather quickly.
Ovarian Cancer Treatments
How Can Ovarian Cancer Be Treated?
While there is no absolute cure, there is a common method of treatment that is highly effective if pursued early in the cancer’s development. This treatment involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy in conjunction with each other.
However, there are addition treatment options that either take the place of the surgery-chemotherapy combination or work in effort with them – although they are not very common.
Ovarian Cancer Surgery
Surgery involves a medical professional working to remove as many of the tumorous cells as possible. This type of surgery only takes place when the cancer was detected in an early developmental stage.
If an early stage development is severe, a surgeon may choose to remove an ovary and its fallopian tube. When only one ovary and fallopian tube is removed, the individual may still retain their ability to have children.
However, when the cancer is detected in late stages of development the surgery may necessitate removing both ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the uterus, nearby lymph nodes, and fatty abdominal tissue. If the surgeon discoveries additional areas infected by the cancer, they will also work to remove the cancer risk from those areas as well.
It is recommended that the surgery is performed by a gynecologic oncologist as those surgeries typically precede higher survival rates and long-disease free periods of time.
Once surgery has been completed, an individual will undergo chemotherapy treatments to kill any remaining cancer cells that the surgery was unable to remove.
These treatments can be administered by injection into a vein or injection into the abdominal cavity. If it is determined that an injection isn’t suitable for the situation the drug may be available in pill form to be taken orally.
The frequency required to confidently eliminate the risk of ovarian cancer may differ depending on the patient and their cancer development. While less common than post-cancer chemotherapy, some forms require that an individual undergo chemotherapy before surgery to reduce the cancer to a manageable surgical level.
Radiation treatments are not commonly used when attempting to eliminate ovarian cancer but there are instances in which it may be used. Using this method may trigger severe side effects including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, skin discoloration, and painful urination.
These side effects occur due to the aggressive nature of radiation treatment. Radiation treatment involves using high-energy X-rays to eliminate active cancer cells while shrinking tumors. The treatment will attack all areas of the pelvis and continue until all cancer cells have been killed.
- Acupuncture (Eliminates Pain)
- Breathing Exercises (Relaxation)
- Massage (Eliminate Pain and Stress)
- Medication & Yoga (Eliminate Stress)
How to Prevent Cancer
Cancer prevention can vary based on different research, and opinionated studies or news reports. However, these simple lifestyle changes can make a difference in the prevention of developing or forming cancer.
- Eat healthy
- Limit or stop your use of tobacco
- Have a balanced lifestyle
- Avoid risky behavior
- Visit your doctor
- Protect your skin from the sun
What Drugs are Used to Treat Ovarian Cancer?
The following drugs and medications are in some way related to, or used in the treatment of ovarian cancer, according to WebMD: