Ovarian cancer occurs when normal cells in an ovary change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor, which can be malignant or benign. Ovarian cancer is rare, and often not detected until it has spread to other areas of the body. When detected early, it can usually be eradicated without major complications.
Types of Ovarian Cancer
There are three different types of tissue in the ovaries, and each type can be affected by cancer.
Epithelial carcinoma, in which cancer cells form in the tissue that covers the ovaries, is the most common type of ovarian cancer. Epithelial carcinoma accounts for 85 percent to 90 percent of reported ovarian cancer cases.
Germ cell carcinoma is an uncommon type of ovarian cancer. It develops in the egg-producing cells of the ovaries.
Stromal-cell carcinoma is a rare form of ovarian cancer that develops in cells in the connective tissue that holds the ovaries together. These cells produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Most tumors that grow in the ovaries are benign, and can be successfully treated. When they are malignant, they require more complicated treatment, particularly if they have spread to other areas of the body.
Causes of Ovarian Cancer
Although the cause of ovarian cancer is not specifically known, some women are at a higher risk than others for developing it. Risk factors for ovarian cancer include the following:
- Having a personal or family history of cancer
- Being aged 55 and older
- Never having been pregnant
- Using menopausal hormone therapy
Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed during a routine pelvic exam.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is usually asymptomatic, particularly in its early stages. As the cancer grows, symptoms include the following:
- Pain or pressure in the abdomen or pelvis
- Frequent urination
- Shortness of breath
A woman who thinks she has symptoms of ovarian cancer should immediately contact her physician.
Treatment of Ovarian Cancer
Treatment for ovarian cancer usually involves surgery to remove the tumor. Often, the entire ovary is removed in a procedure called an "oophorectomy," which can be combined, if necessary, with other procedures that remove the uterus and fallopian tubes. Other treatment options for ovarian cancer are chemotherapy and radiation therapy.