What is it?
There are several different types of ovarian cancer, but by far the most common – accounting for 90 per cent of cases – is epithelial ovarian cancer, or cancer of the surface layers of the ovary.
Around 40 to 50 per cent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will still be alive five years later. When the disease is caught early, however, survival rates are much higher, although the particular type and severity of the cancer are also important factors.
The exact cause of ovarian cancer isn’t clear, but some factors are known to increase the risk.
The most important is family history, because the faulty genes that increase the risk of ovarian cancer can be inherited. In particular you may be at increased risk if you have close relatives who’ve had one of the following types of cancer: ovary, breast, colon, prostate or endometrial (lining of the womb).
The risk of developing ovarian cancer may also be related to how many eggs the ovary releases. Each time an egg is released (ovulation) the surface of the ovary breaks open and the cells on the surface divide to repair the damage, increasing the chances of a tumour developing. So, having children and breastfeeding may reduce the risk, as may taking the contraceptive pill (as it prevents ovulation).
Other possible risk factors include fertility treatment, a high-fat diet and the use of talcum powder in the genital area.
Symptoms are usually vague, especially in the early stages. Many women have no symptoms at all and the disease is discovered by chance. But early symptoms may include pain in the lower abdomen or side and a bloated feeling.
As the disease progresses, it may cause lower abdominal pain, pain during sex, a swollen abdomen, constipation and irregular periods. In the advanced stages of disease there may be loss of appetite, nausea, weight loss, tiredness and shortness of breath.
Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose and most women have some other explanation for their symptoms. If your GP is concerned that you could have ovarian cancer, he or she will carry out an internal examination and take a blood test. You may then be referred to a specialist who may do further blood tests and an ultrasound scan of the ovaries.
Screening for ovarian cancer is currently offered to those at high risk – because of family history, for example – and to those of normal risk who’ve been invited to join a trial. Your doctor can tell you more.
Most women with ovarian cancer are offered surgery to remove the tumour. Many also have chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. The treatment recommended will depend on the type of ovarian cancer, how far it has spread, the severity or grade of the cancer and how healthy you are.
This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Trisha Macnair in August 2005.
First published in November 1997.
Ovarian Cancer News:
An Inspiration to Ovarian Cancer Patients Passes (Centre Daily Times) – Patty Franchi Flaherty, founder of the nonprofit organization Ovations for the Cure of Ovarian Cancer, peacefully succumbed to her nine-year battle with the disease August 18, 2008 surrounded by friends and family. She was 53 years old.
An Inspiration to Ovarian Cancer Patients Passes (Business Wire via Yahoo! Finance) – NATICK, Mass.—-Patty Franchi Flaherty, founder of the nonprofit organization Ovations for the Cure of Ovarian Cancer, peacefully succumbed to her nine-year battle with the disease August 18, 2008 surrounded by friends and family.
Desperate Housewives – Maclachlan Urges Women To Seek Cancer Help (ContactMusic) – DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES star KYLE MACLACHLAN is to honour his late mother by starring in a new cancer awareness ad. The Twin Peaks actor’s mother died of ovarian cancer …
Family stages walk to combat ovarian cancer (West Bloomfield Eccentric) – Janis Warren made one request before her death in April 2007.
Human-interest writer weighs whether to continue chemotherapy for ovarian cancer (Newark Advocate) – NEWARK — Always fit, Jean Carrelli, 71, didn’t know anything was wrong until last Thanksgiving. As she stepped out of the car to go to dinner with her husband, Al, she suddenly felt very weak.
Lean on me: Jade’s ex Jack takes her to Harley Street doctors as she prepares for cancer battle (Daily Mail) – Jade Goody was comforted by her ex-boyfriend Jack Tweed today as they visited a consultant to discuss options for treatment for her cancer.
Imaging industry seeks more coverage for cancer scans (Reuters via Yahoo! News) – The medical imaging industry called for the Medicare government health plan to broaden its coverage of PET scans to additional cancer types, asking an advisory panel on Wednesday to recommend wider payments.
Tough decisions on breast cancer (Baltimore Sun) – C hristina Applegate is young, beautiful, famous and stunningly candid about her decision to have both breasts removed rather than live in dread that her breast cancer would return.
Lean on me: Jade’s ex Jack is to support Jade through her cancer treatment (Daily Mail) – Jade Goody is being comforted by ex-boyfriend Jack Tweed who accompanied her on her first visit to see the consultant to discuss options for treatment for her cancer.
Advertisement starts (Tiscali) – cause of cancer death in U.S. women and is expected to kill about 15,000 American women this year. It said about two-thirds of women who develop ovarian cancer are 55 or older and it is a bit more common in whites than blacks.
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