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Ovarian Cancer

What is Ovarian Cancer ?

Ovarian Cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the ovaries or possibly the ends of the fallopian tubes. Cancer occurs when the normally healthy cells acquire a genetic mutation which causes the cells to become abnormal and out of control. 

As these abnormal cells accumulate over time they form ‘masses’, parts of which may invade nearby organs or spread through the blood and lymphatic system to distant organs. Once this occurs the outcome is not as good.  These abnormal cells and masses may form in either the cells on the outside of the ovaries, the egg producing cells or the hormone producing cells. Epithelial ovarian cancer starting in the cells on the outside of the ovary or distal end of the fallopian tube is by far the most common form of ovarian cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?

There is no specific symptom related to Ovarian Cancer, and no specific screening test.  Early symptoms may include things such as indigestion, bloating and pelvic ‘fullness’ or discomfort, loss of appetite, back pain and weight loss that you can’t explain.  As the cancer progresses you may experience changes to your bladder or your bowel functions, vomiting, abdominal pains or your stomach may swell up.  Most of these symptoms are ones which as women we can easily ignore or assume are different problems.

Risk factors for ovarian cancer :

  • Age older than 55 years
  • Family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer colon cancer endometrial cancer
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Never having had children

What at my risk ?

People who have had themselves or have a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer or a condition known as Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC) are at higher risk.  Approximately 10% of ovarian cancers are hereditary. However, age is the main risk factor for ovarian cancer with most cancers occurring after menopause, although it can occur at any age. Other risk factors include obesity, smoking and women who have never fallen pregnant. Contraception pills, pregnancy, tubal ligation and hysterectomy all decrease your risk.

What if I think I am at risk?

It is important to remember that most women with the above symptoms will not have ovarian cancer, however If you are experiencing persistent symptoms and feel that you are also at risk see your doctor.  There are various tests that can be used to investigate whether ovarian pathology as the cause of your symptoms.  These include blood tests and ultrasound investigations.

The only way to tell for certain that a woman has ovarian cancer is with a biopsy.

Remember, no one knows your body like you do. If you have noticed any changes and that are unusual for you, see your doctor.