Ovarian Epithelial Cancer

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common form of cancer among females in the UK, with around 6,800 cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed every year. Ovarian cancer is a form of cancer that presents itself in the ovaries. The ovaries are part of the female reproduction system and are responsible for producing eggs and the sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. The most common form of ovarian cancer is epithelial ovarian cancer, which accounts for around 90 percent of cases.

What causes ovarian cancer?

The causes of ovarian cancer are unknown, though some risk factors have been identified. Risk factors are known to increase the chances of developing ovarian cancer, but they do not necessarily cause cancer. Risk factors include:

  • Age: ovarian cancer is most common among older women and most cases affect women who have already been through the menopause
  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Being overweight
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • Infertility

Symptoms of ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is occasionally referred to as the silent killer because in the early stages most people do not develop symptoms. Possible symptoms associated with ovarian cancer include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Bloating
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Changes in bowel movements or bladder habits

Many of the symptoms listed above may also be associated with mild health issues, but it is always worth getting checked out, especially if your symptoms persist.

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

Should you convey any of the symptoms listed above you should consult your GP, who will examine you and questions concerning your symptoms; they may also take a blood sample. If your GP is concerned they may arrange for you to have an ultrasound scan and refer you to a specialist in this area – a gynaecologist - for additional tests. Further tests include a blood test for CA125 (this is a protein that is usually found in very low levels in the blood, but when ovarian cancer is present these levels increase, however, it is also present with other conditions and may not necessarily indicate ovarian cancer) and CT and MRI scans.

What treatments are available for ovarian cancer?

Surgery and chemotherapy are the most commonly used treatments for ovarian cancer. Surgery is usually carried out first, but if the cancer remains undiagnosed until a very advanced stage it may not be possible and chemotherapy will then be used. Chemotherapy can also be performed after surgery to try and reduce the risk of the cancer returning.

What is the outlook for people with ovarian cancer?

The outlook, like most other forms of cancer, falls largely on the stage of cancer. If a diagnosis is made early then treatment can be very effective. However, if the cancer is diagnosed at an advanced stage, the prognosis may not be as positive. Around 70 percent of women will survive for at least 1 year after diagnosis, while 30 percent will survive for at least ten years after diagnosis.

Living with ovarian cancer

You may find it very hard to come to terms with your diagnosis and will as a consequence experience a mixture of emotions, with some days being more difficult than others. If you need advice about practical matters, would like more information on your condition, or simply want to talk to somebody without seeing them face to face, you can contact one of the UK cancer charities.

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