Cancer in ovaries is often called the "silent" killer because symptoms only occur when the disease has progressed to an advanced stage and difficult to treat. It is the fourth most common cancer among women, after breast cancer, bowel cancer and lung cancer. Cancer in ovaries is most common in women over the age of 65, although it can affect women of any age.
The exact cause of ovarian cancer is not known. It is by far more common in women who live in developed countries. Probable causative factors include family history, history of endometriosis, early menarche and late menopause. Risk factors which increase the incidence of ovarian cancer include obesity, hormone replacement therapy, and fertility treatment. Incidence of cancer is less in those using contraceptive pill, those who have had children, have breastfed their children, and those who have had hysterectomy.
Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries. These are small, almond-shaped female reproductive organs are located on either side of the uterus, the ovaries store eggs and are responsible for producing the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Most ovarian cancers commonly occur in the cells on the surface of the ovaries, known as epithelial cancer. Other types are those that begin in the egg-forming cells (germ-cell cancers) or in the connective tissue of the ovaries called stromal tumors.
Many women do not have symptoms in the early stages of ovarian cancer. Symptoms, if present, include pain or bloated feeling in the abdomen. As the disease progresses, symptoms include:
- loss of appetite
- unexplained weight gain
- swelling in the abdomen
- abnormal vaginal bleeding
- pain during sex
- changes in bowel or bladder habits - constipation, diarrhea, or frequent urination.
A pelvic exam, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, and a blood test for a protein called CA125 which can be high in some cancers, are usually ordered to diagnose the problem. The doctor may look at the internal organs through a fiber-optic tube called laparoscope. A biopsy may be performed of a sample tissue. Abdominal fluid may be aspirated to look for cancer cells. Treatment depends on the exact type of ovarian cancer and how far it has spread. Almost all women require surgery which would involve removal of the ovary, fallopian tubes, uterus, and nearby lymph nodes depending on how far the cancer has advanced. After surgery, women with ovarian cancer will be offered chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Chemotherapy involves treatment with drugs that disrupt the growth of cancer cells. These include carboplatin and paclitaxel (Taxol), either taken alone or both together. Chemotherapy can have side-effects which will be explained by the doctor.
Along with conventional treatment of cancer in the ovaries, holistic medicine is also extremely useful. It will help control symptoms, side effects of chemotherapy and prevent relapse of the cancer while being safe, cheap, and effective.