Ovarian cancer is an abnormal growth of tissue in the ovary. The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system where the eggs are produced. Most ovarian cancers develop on the surface of the ovary.
Types of ovarian cancer
There are 3 main types of ovarian cancer:
Epithelial tumours develop on the epithelium (surface) of the ovary and are the most common type
Germ cell tumours occur in the cells that produce the eggs and can develop in younger women
Stromal tumours develop in the hormone-producing (oestrogen and progesterone) part of the ovary. Oestrogen and progesterone are the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
Abdominal swelling and discomfort (pressure, fullness or bloat)
Changes in bowel habits, eg. constipation
Loss of appetite or weight loss
Lower back pain
Pain during sexual intercourse
Persistent indigestion or nausea
Frequent need to urinate
What are the causes of ovarian cancer?
The exact cause of ovarian cancer is not known, although there may be some risk factors that increase the chance of its development.
What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer?
You may be at risk of developing ovarian cancer if you:
Had your first pregnancy at an older age or have never been pregnant
Had your menopause at a late age
Have a family member with ovarian cancer (especially if they have the BRCA gene)
Have endometriosis, a condition where the endometrium tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus (womb) grows outside the uterus
Have had breast cancer
Started menstruating at a young age
Used hormone replacement therapy for more than 5 years
Were overweight in early adulthood
However, the risk of ovarian cancer developing in a woman is about 1 in 81, and this tumour is usually 'silent'. The symptoms are vague and usually not detected until the disease is advanced. So, even if you do not have risk factors for the cancer, it is important to consider the possibility if you have the symptoms.
Ovarian cancer has been dubbed a silent killer as it often presents at a late stage, resulting in low survival rates. Dr Elisa Koh explains the current statistics and treatment methods for ovarian cancer.