What are the ovaries?
Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus (womb). The ovaries produce an egg once a month, which travel down the fallopian tube and into the uterus, ready to be fertilised by sperm.
The ovaries also produce hormones, including the 'female' hormone oestrogen.
What is ovarian cancer?
The body is made up of billions of tiny cells, which are constantly growing, dying and reforming. If the cells become abnormal for any reason, this turnover cycle can lose control. The abnormal cells start dividing and growing faster than normal, forming a growth of abnormal cells (cancer). Cancers cause problems because they replace normal cells with abnormal non-functioning cells, destroying nearby areas as they grow.
A benign ovary growth is one that forms a lump, but is not dangerous. A pre-malignant ovary growth is one that has the potential to turn into a cancer, but has not done so yet. A malignant ovarian growth is a cancer that has the potential to spread elsewhere.
What causes ovarian cancer?
There are different forms of ovarian cancer, the most common being 'epithelial' ovarian cancer. The exact cause of this is unknown, but there are certain risk factors such as increasing age, being overweight and previous radiotherapy.
What are the symptoms of epithelial ovarian cancer?
At first, no symptoms at all may be experienced. As the tumour grows, periods may become irregular, lower abdominal pain may be experienced, and you may have the urge to pass water more frequently. These symptoms are often vague and ovarian cancer may be found when testing for other causes of such symptoms.
What tests can be performed for ovary cancer?
Your specialist may want to perform a vaginal examination and arrange for a number of tests, including blood tests and scans. Further scans and tests may be needed to check for any spread of the tumour.
What are the treatment options for ovarian cancer?
There are a number of treatment options, which will depend on a number of factors including the extent of the tumour. Generally, surgery will be needed to remove the affected ovary and fallopian tube. Chemotherapy may be used before the surgery to shrink a large tumour, but is usually given after the operation to 'mop up' any cancer cells that may be remaining. Radiotherapy is not often used for ovarian cancer, but may be useful for instances where the tumour has spread elsewhere.
The long-term outlook is much better if treated early than if a tumour has had a chance to grow to a large size or spread elsewhere. If you have any concerns about possible ovarian cancer, therefore, then you should seek medical advice at the earliest opportunity.
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