- The average age of women when they are diagnosed with ovarian cancer is 64 years old
- Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer, so it mostly affects women. Transgender men and intersex people can also get ovarian cancer if they have ovaries
Ovarian cancer involves abnormal cell growth within the ovary and surrounding tissues.
Ovarian cancer can be one of three types:
This can involve either one or both ovaries, where cancer cells grow on the outside of the ovary. This type of ovarian cancer is the most common form, accounting for approximately 90% of ovarian cancers.
This involves the cells that produce the eggs and accounts for approximately 4% of all ovarian cancers.
This involves the tissues that support the ovary in producing oestrogen and progesterone hormones. This type of ovarian cancer is very rare.
As signs and symptoms for ovarian cancer can be similar to other common conditions, it’s important to see your GP or healthcare professional if you experience any of the symptoms below. Discussing anything concerning with your doctor as soon as possible can help give you peace of mind and offer the best chance of successful treatment if you receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis.
Symptoms may include:
Pain in the abdomen or pelvic area
Bloating or an extended abdomen
Bleeding between periods or after menopause
Reduced appetite or a feeling of being full after small meals
Weight gain or loss that can’t be explained by diet and exercise-related factors
Changes in urinating, including increase in frequency and urgent need to pass urine
Changes in bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhoea
Ovarian cancer is typically staged using the FIGO (International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics) system, which helps doctors understand what your cancer looks like.
Within each stage of ovarian cancer, there are sub-stages listed from A through to D which describe the extent of the tumour.
The FIGO system, along with other tests, helps determine the stage of your ovarian cancer using the guidelines below:
Cancer has been found in either one or both ovaries.
The cancer has spread beyond one or both ovaries to other nearby organs such as the uterus or bladder.
The cancer has spread beyond the ovaries and nearby organs to the lining of the abdomen or lymph nodes.
The cancer has spread to other areas of the body such as the lung.
Some women are at increased risk of ovarian cancer because they have a strong family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer. They may also be at increased risk when a family member is known to have inherited a fault in a gene associated with breast or ovarian cancer.
In some cases ovarian cancer is due to mutations in the genes BRCA 1 (Breast Cancer 1) and BRCA 2 (Breast Cancer 2). Mutations in these genes also increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
Approximately 15% of ovarian cancers are caused by these gene mutations.
There’s no one cause of ovarian cancer, however genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors can all increase your risk. Risk factors include:
Currently, ovarian cancer is estimated to be the 9th most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in Australian women.
It is mainly diagnosed in women over the age of 50, however, there are also cases diagnosed in younger women.
The chance of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer by the time you are 85 years old is estimated to be 1 in 87.
There is no screening test to diagnose ovarian cancer. A blood test to test for CA125 – a common marker for ovarian cancer may be done, along with a physical examination and scans. However, only a biopsy can clinically diagnose ovarian cancer.
This is why knowing your body and being aware of any changes and symptoms is important.
Screening or surveillance is not recommended for women at high risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Although the exact cause of ovarian cancer is not known, there are some factors that can reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer.
More research is needed to determine the risk of ovarian cancer with regards to alcohol, diet, and the use of aspirin and anti-inflammatory medications.
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