About Ovarian Cancer

Ovaries are glands in the female reproductive system that produce eggs to facilitate reproduction. Women have two ovaries located on either side of the uterus. When cells in the ovaries or the far end of the fallopian tube turn cancerous, it causes ovarian cancer. It is gynaecological cancer and the most common cancer found in women. It is the fifth most common cancer in the UK. This cancer usually occurs in menopausal women but may affect younger women too. Unlike many other cancers, ovarian cancer early gives signs and symptoms. Ovarian cancers are of different types, but the most common is carcinoma. Ovarian cancer treatment options depend upon multiple factors. Though the exact cause of these cancers is unknown, some factors like endometriosis, a family history of gynaecological cancer, hormone replacement therapy and a genetic mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes may increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer life expectancy five years after diagnosis (or the five-year survival rate) is around 48% to 93%, depending on the cancer type and spread.


One of the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer is vaginal bleeding, especially in menopausal women. Other common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the pelvic, abdominal or back area
  • Bloating
  • Feeling full even without eating too much
  • Changes in bowel movements and urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Painful sex
  • Menstrual changes (in pre-menopausal women)

Most of these symptoms are not exclusive to ovarian cancer, but if they are persistent, you must visit your doctor to get them checked out.


If your doctor suspects ovarian cancer based on your signs, symptoms, medical and family history, they may recommend the following tests: 

  • Pelvic examination: Helps the doctor detect any growths on either side of the uterus.


  • Blood test for tumour marker: This is used to detect the presence of CA-125, a tumour marker protein explicitly made by the ovarian cancer cells. This test is also used to determine the best ovarian cancer treatment options and assess treatment effectiveness.


  • Biopsy: This test confirms the presence of ovarian cancer. A small tissue sample is collected from the suspected ovary – by surgery, laparoscopy or fine-needle aspiration. The sample is also used to stage cancer, where stage 1 is early-stage, and stage 3 and stage 4 ovarian cancer are advanced-stage.


  • Imaging tests: X-rays, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI and a PET scan may be performed to determine the location, size, extent and spread of ovarian cancer.


Assessing your symptoms and evaluating your test results can help your doctor and healthcare team determine how to treat ovarian cancer.


Ovarian cancer treatment options depend upon:

  • The type of ovarian cancer
  • Its stage
  • Spread

The standard treatment options can be broadly classified into:

  • Localised treatments


  • Surgery: Most women with ovarian cancer undergo surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible. 


  • Radiation therapy: This treatment uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. Since it is not as effective as aggressive chemotherapy, radiation therapy is usually used with other treatments.


  • Systemic treatments


  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy and ovarian cancer are often said to have side effects, but it is one of the most effective treatments for this condition. Usually, a combination of two chemotherapeutic drugs is given for ovarian cancer.


  • Hormone therapy: In this treatment, certain drugs are used to block hormones causing ovarian cancer. This treatment is used in some types of ovarian cancer only.


  • Targeted therapy: This treatment uses specific drugs that target only the ovarian cancer cells without harming the normal cells, as seen with chemotherapy.

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