Ovarian cancer occurs when normal cells in an ovary change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor may be noncancerous or cancerous. Ovarian cancer is a rare type of cancer and is often not detected until it has spread to other areas of the body. When detected early, ovarian cancer can usually be cured with no major complications.
Types of Ovarian Cancer Tumors
There are three different types of tissue in the ovaries, and each type can be affected by a different kind of cancer.
Epithelial carcinoma is the most common type of ovarian cancer and exists when cancer cells form in the tissue that covers the ovaries. Epithelial carcinoma composes 85% to 90% of reported ovarian cancers.
Germ Cell Carcinoma
Germ cell carcinoma is an uncommon type of ovarian cancer and develops in the egg producing calls of the ovaries.
Stromal Cell Carcinoma
Stromal cell carcinoma is a rare form of ovarian cancer that develops in the connective tissue cells that hold the ovaries together. These cells produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Most tumors that grow in the ovaries are benign and can be successfully treated, but some may be malignant and can spread to other parts of the body, requiring more complicated treatment.
Causes of Ovarian Cancer
While the cause of ovarian cancer is not specifically known, some patients are at a higher risk of developing this disease than others. Risk factors for ovarian cancer may include:
- A personal or family history of cancer
- People age 55 and older
- Never been pregnant
- Taking menopausal hormone therapy
Women who think they may be at risk for ovarian cancer should speak to their doctor.
Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed during a routine pelvic exam, after a lump appears on an ultrasound image. If a lump is detected, your doctor will biopsy the lump to determine whether or not it is cancerous.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Patients with ovarian cancer usually do not experience any symptoms from the disease, especially in the early stages. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
- Pain or pressure in the abdomen or pelvis
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent urination
Treatment of Ovarian Cancer
Treatment for ovarian cancer is usually addressed with surgery to remove the tumor, often by removing the entire ovary. This procedure is called an oophorectomy, and may be combined with other procedures to remove the uterus and fallopian tubes. Other treatment options for ovarian cancer may include chemotherapy or radiation therapy to kill remaining cancer cells and ensure that the disease has been removed from the body.