Ovarian Cancer

Cancer of the ovaries attacks a woman’s reproductive system. As a woman, or even a man, it is important to understand the facts of ovarian cancer.

What are the ovaries?

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In general, ovaries are two small organs in a woman’s reproductive system that are oval in shape, and are located one on each side of a womb in the pelvic region. In a fertile woman, the ovaries alternate to produce an egg each month. After the egg is produced, it passes down to the uterus for fertilisation through the fallopian tubes.

If fertilisation does not occur, the egg together with the endometrium (the uterine wall) is expelled as part of the monthly cycle in a process called menstruation or in simple terms, period. The ovaries are also responsible for the synthesis of female hormones like progesterone and oestrogen.

What is the cancer of the ovaries?

Ovarian cancer occurs when a normal or some normal cells in the ovaries change and start growing abnormally to form a malignant tumour, also known as a cancer. Due to the deep location of the ovaries in the pelvis, the tumour, especially if not discovered early, may affect the surrounding organs such as the bladder.

If an organ is affected by the malignant tumour, it may affect its functionality which can be observed through some symptoms.

Symptoms of the cancer of the ovaries

The symptoms of the ovarian cancer may take long to occur and therefore most affected women might not notice until it worsens. When they do occur however, they could be vague and mild but are distinct in the sense that they do not go away. They include:

  • A rare abnormal discharge through the vagina and bleeding
  • Feeling bloated
  • Filling up quickly or poor appetite
  • Persistent swollen abdomen
  • Nausea and or an unclear indigestion
  • Pain in the lower abdominal region or side
  • Random changes in the bladder habits or bowel movement. This can include problems like an urgent need to urinate or constipation.

The symptoms do not necessarily mean ovarian cancer but it is important to get checked out in the face of such occurrence.

Ovarian cancer prognosis and diagnosis

If you are experiencing symptoms, visit a gynecologist for examination. An internal examination follows where he or she checks for lump[s or swelling inserts his or her gloved fingers in your vagina.

If the gynecologist has some concerns, he will refer you for further checks and tests which might include:

  • Laparoscopy
  • An abdominal ultrasound
  • Special blood tests
  • A trans-vaginal ultrasound

Trans-vaginal ultrasound

This is a special ultrasound where a small and slender metal device referred to as a probe, is covered in gel and inserted into the womb via the vagina. This process generates clear pictures of the womb as well as the ovaries. Although the process is a little uncomfortable, it is not painful at all.

Abdominal ultrasound

The idea of an ultrasound is to utilize sound waves to produce images of the inner tissues of the body. An abdominal ultrasound procedure is not invasive.  First, the physician applies a gel around the region to be explored and then the probe scans by producing sound waves. A computer then transforms the waves into pictures through which abnormal tissues can be discovered.

Laparoscopy

This is a minor surgery conducted in a theatre for purposes of accessing the inner tissues or organs of the abdomen. It is conducted under a general anaesthetic. A physician makes an incision in the lower abdominal region, below the navel, and then a laparoscope is inserted through the incision into the abdomen.

The physician examines the ovaries and could even conduct a biopsy for further tests outside the body.

Special blood tests

Blood is obtained from the patient and a CA125 test conducted on the blood. CA125 is a chemical, often produced by the ovaries, which is found in blood. In a cancerous body, there are elevated levels of CA125 but not all women exhibit this sign. It is therefore necessary to conduct further tests including:

  • PET scan
  • CT scan, and
  • MRI scan

These special tests can help investigate the stage of the cancer as well as the region affected (if the cancer has spread or affected surrounding area).