Ovarian Cancer: What You Need To Know

Do you know which cancer is the third deadliest cancer among women in India? It is Ovarian Cancer. Ovaries are a part of the female reproductive system, responsible for producing eggs or ova, as well as, the estrogen and progesterone hormone. Every female has two of them, and the growth of abnormal cells in the ovaries can cause symptoms like bloating, swelling, menstrual irregularities and in severe cases, difficulty in getting pregnant and eventually death.

Due to the lack of severe symptoms, diagnosis of ovarian cancer happens often in the later stages. Many hospitals like Jaslok Hospital Mumbai have dedicated medical and surgical oncology departments to diagnose and treat the disease.

Let’s understand this cancer better.

What are the Symptoms?

The symptoms of Ovarian cancer include 

  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Bloating
  • Discomfort or pain in the pelvic region
  • Frequent urination
  • Constipation and indigestion
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Heartburn
  • Irregularities with the menstruation cycle
  • Weight loss

Usually, such symptoms subside by taking medications, but if the symptoms persist, it is necessary to consult a doctor or oncologist for a definite diagnosis.

What are the different types?

The types of Ovarian cancer depends on the type of cells involved in the multiplication and tumour formation. They are

  • Epithelial cell tumour – This layer covers the outside of the ovaries and is the most common type of ovarian cancer.
  • Germ cell tumour – This is the type which affects the egg-producing cells in the ovaries. This type is more common in younger women.
  • Stromal cell tumour – This type affects the cells which release hormones (majorly estrogen and progesterone). 

What are the Causes?

Though the causes of cancer are not defined, some factors have been identified, which help us understand why it happens.

Cancer develops due to a mutation in the DNA of the ovarian cells. This mutation leads to the unstoppable growth of the cells, which in severe cases invade the nearby tissues and organs.

What are the Risk Factors?

The risk factors which increase the chances of having ovarian cancer include

  • Family history – Family history of ovarian cancer or any other gynaecological cancer increases the chances
  • Obesity and sedentary lifestyle
  • Older age – Women between 50 to 60 years of age or more prone to this type of cancer
  • Therapies like estrogen hormone replacement therapies
  • Having children post 35 years of age or by having no children at all
  • Medical history of gynaecological cancers like breast cancer

What are the diagnostic measures?

One may get a diagnosis during a routine health check-up or after having symptoms. If the symptoms indicate ovarian cancer, the doctor usually takes a detailed medical history and recommends

  • Blood test – To check for the level of cancer antigen CA-125
  • Transvaginal ultrasound
  • Advanced imaging tests like MRI or CT scan
  • Tissue biopsy

What are the treatment options?

Many treatment options are available to treat and manage Ovarian cancer. Its prognosis is better when the cancer is in its initial stages, but a combination of treatments can help counter cancer and reverse its effects.

Surgery – A surgery can be done for multiple reasons

  • For removal of a single ovary in the initial stage, where a tumour is small, and there is no metastasis (spread of cancer)
  • For the removal of both the ovaries in case the cancer is in both ovaries but has not spread elsewhere. In this surgery, the fallopian tubes are also taken out. A female can get pregnant later on with the help of donor eggs or frozen eggs.
  • For removal of ovaries, fallopian tubes and the uterus in later stages where metastasis is visible.
  • For removal of remaining cancer post-chemotherapy.

Hospitals like Jaslok Hospital Mumbai have teams of dedicated and specialized surgical oncologists who operate, treat and manage such medical ailments.

Chemotherapy – A treatment of choice, chemotherapy are strong drugs which are taken in cycles intravenously or orally. This treatment option is also combined with surgery in advanced stages of ovarian cancer.

Radiation Therapy – This type of treatment uses X-Ray to kill cancer cells. This can also be used in combination with surgery.

Targetted therapy – This kind of treatment uses specific drugs which target cancer. This type of treatment is the case of a relapse.

A Note on Palliative Care

Palliative care is provided in advanced stages of cancer where other treatments may not be 100 % successful. Under this, doctors and specialists work with very ill patients and their families to reduce the patient’s suffering, by relieving them of pain and other symptoms.