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Home > Health Library > Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in or near your ovaries. The ovaries are two small glands, located on either side of your uterus. They produce female sex hormones and store and release eggs. Ovarian cancer can occur in anyone who has female pelvic organs, even people who don't identify as female.
Experts don't know exactly what causes ovarian cancer. Genetics, such as DNA changes, are a risk factor for a small number of those who get ovarian cancer. For example, the risk of ovarian cancer is higher for those who have BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene changes than for those without them.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer may include bloating. They may also include pain in the belly or pelvis, trouble eating or feeling full quickly, an urgent need to urinate, or urinating more often than usual. If these symptoms are new and happen almost daily for a few weeks, see a doctor.
If your doctor suspects ovarian cancer, you will get a physical exam. You may also get tests. One blood test is called CA-125. You may also get an ultrasound or CT scan. Based on the test result, you may need a biopsy. An ovary is removed so it can be checked for cancer cells.
Treatment for ovarian cancer is based on the stage of the cancer and other things, such as your overall health. The main treatment is surgery to remove the cancer. Other treatment options may include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and endocrine therapy.
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In most cases, the risk of getting ovarian cancer is small. But the things that put you at risk for ovarian cancer are having:
Other things that put you at risk include:
Most people who get ovarian cancer don't have any of these risk factors.
Here are some things that can lower your risk for ovarian cancer:
In some cases, ovarian cancer may cause early symptoms. The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
If you have one or more of these symptoms, and it occurs almost daily for more than 2 or 3 weeks, talk with your doctor.
These symptoms are common for some people. They may not mean that you have ovarian cancer. But the early symptoms of ovarian cancer follow a pattern:
Other symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
But these symptoms are also common in some people who don't have ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer often spreads early. Because it grows in the tissues covering the ovaries, it can spread easily within the abdominal cavity to the bowels and bladder or the abdominal lining. From there it may travel to other organs in the body, such as the liver or lungs.
Talk to your doctor if you have any symptoms, such as:
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, be sure to follow your doctor's instructions about calling when you have problems, new symptoms, or symptoms that get worse.
Your doctor may check you for ovarian cancer if a lump is found on an ovary during a pelvic exam or an ultrasound. You will likely also get a physical exam. You will be asked about any symptoms, your medical history, and your family's history of cancer.
You may also get some tests. They include lab tests. One of these is a blood test called CA-125. Too much CA-125 (cancer antigen 125) in your blood can be a sign of ovarian cancer. Other tests may also include imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or a CT scan.
If these tests show signs of cancer, you will get a biopsy. This involves surgery to remove an ovary. Tissue from the ovary will be looked at under a microscope to see if it has cancer cells.
Experts don't recommend routine screening for ovarian cancer for women who have an average risk for the disease and who have no symptoms. Having screening tests doesn't help them live longer. And the tests, such as the CA-125 test or transvaginal ultrasound, often have false-positive results that can lead to more tests and unneeded surgery.
Some women have a higher risk of ovarian cancer. This includes those with BRCA gene changes. For them, doctors may recommend the CA-125 test and a transvaginal ultrasound. If you are at higher risk, the benefits of screening may outweigh the harms.
Treatment for ovarian cancer is based on the stage of the cancer and other things, such as your overall health. The main treatment is surgery to remove the cancer. Other treatment options may include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and endocrine therapy. Sometimes a clinical trial may be a good choice.
Your doctor will talk with you about your options and then make a treatment plan.
The doctor removes as much of the cancer as possible. Often this means the doctor will remove:
Talk to your doctor if the cancer is in only one ovary and there's a chance that you might want to get pregnant later. The doctor may be able to remove only the affected ovary and its fallopian tube. This is called fertility-sparing surgery.
Medicines used to treat ovarian cancer include:
To treat ovarian cancer, the medicine is most often injected into a vein. Sometimes it's put into the belly through a thin tube. Or it may be warmed and put into the belly during surgery.
Clinical trials are research studies that test new treatments to find out how well they work. Your medical team can tell you if there's a clinical trial that might be right for you.
Palliative care is a type of care for people who have a serious illness. It's different from care to cure your illness, called curative treatment. Palliative care provides an extra layer of support that can improve your quality of life—not just in your body, but also in your mind and spirit. Sometimes palliative care is combined with curative treatment.
The kind of care you get depends on what you need. Your goals guide your care. You can get both palliative care and care to treat your illness. You don't have to choose one or the other.
Palliative care can help you manage symptoms, pain, or side effects from treatment. It may help you and those close to you better understand your illness, talk more openly about your feelings, or decide what treatment you want or don't want. It can also help you communicate better with your doctors, nurses, family, and friends.
It can be hard to live with an illness that cannot be cured. But if your health is getting worse, you may want to make decisions about end-of-life care. Planning for the end of your life does not mean that you are giving up. It is a way to make sure that your wishes are met. Clearly stating your wishes can make it easier for your loved ones. Making plans while you are still able may also ease your mind and make your final days less stressful and more meaningful.
Some people use complementary therapies along with medical treatment. They may help relieve the symptoms and stress of cancer or the side effects of cancer treatment. Therapies that may be helpful include:
Talk with your doctor about any of these options you would like to try. And let your doctor know if you are already using any complementary therapies. They are not meant to take the place of standard medical treatment. But they may help you feel better and cope better with treatment.
Relationships take on new importance when you're faced with cancer. Your family and friends can help support you. You may also want to look beyond those who are close to you.
Remember that the people around you want to support you, and asking for help isn't a sign of weakness.
Your friends and family want to help, but some of them may not know what to do. It may help to make a list. For example, you might ask them to:
Places to turn for support include:
Your feelings about your body may change after treatment for ovarian cancer. Surgery and other treatments may cause physical or emotional changes that affect your body image. Or they may affect your desire to be intimate with a partner. Everyone has their own reaction to the challenges of cancer treatment.
If you have concerns, try to talk openly with your partner, if you have one. Or discuss your feelings with your doctor or nurse. Your care team may be able to help. Or they may refer you to counseling or a support group. Talking with others who've had similar feelings can be very helpful.
Current as of:
September 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Sarah Marshall MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineRoss Berkowitz MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as of: September 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Ross Berkowitz MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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