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Ovarian Cancer

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer involves abnormal cell growth within the ovary and surrounding tissues.

Ovarian cancer can be one of three types:

  • Epithelial– which 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.2
  • Germ cell – involves the cells that produce the eggs, and account for approximately 4% of all ovarian cancers.2

Stromal tumour – involves the tissues that support the ovary in producing oestrogen and progesterone hormones. This type of ovarian cancer is very rare.2

Is ovarian cancer hereditary?

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 are also involved in the increased risk of breast cancer.

Approximately 15% of ovarian cancers can be explained by these gene mutations. 6

Stages of ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is typically staged using the FIGO (International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics) system.There are four stages of ovarian cancer ranging from stage 1 to stage 4, which gives an indication of how little (stage 1) to how much (stage 4) the cancer has progressed. 8

The stages of the FIGO system are:13

Stage I
Cancer has been found in either one or both ovaries.

Stage II
The cancer has spread beyond one or both ovaries to other nearby organs such as the uterus or bladder.

Stage III
The cancer has spread beyond the ovaries and nearby organs to the lining of the abdomen or lymph nodes.

Stage IV
The cancer has spread to other areas of the body such as the lung.

Within each stage (I-IV) there are sub-stages, listed from A through to D which describe the extent of the tumour.13

As the staging of ovarian cancer can be complex, it is important to discuss your individual diagnosis and stage with your specialist.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer

Currently there is no screening test to diagnose ovarian cancer. Typically a blood test to test for CA125 – a common marker for ovarian cancer can be done, along with a physical examination and scans.9 However only a biopsy can clinically diagnose ovarian cancer.

Therefore knowing your body and being aware of any changes and symptoms is important.8

Some common symptoms to be aware of include: 8

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

more frequent or urgent need to pass urine

Changes in bowel habits

such as constipation or diarrhoea

Tiredness

Whilst these symptoms may be due to other causes besides ovarian cancer, it is always important to see your doctor.

Treatment

Frequently asked questions

What causes ovarian cancer?

Whilst there is no one cause of ovarian cancer, there are a number risk factors that can increase your risk for ovarian cancer. These include: 5

  • Having a family history of ovarian cancer, especially if a close relative such as your sister, mother or daughter has had ovarian cancer.
  • Increased age (the risk increases for women over 50 years of age)9
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Obesity
  • Having a family history of bowel or breast cancer
  • Endometriosis (a condition where tissue that lines your uterus grows abnormally outside of the uterus)
  • Having Ashkenazi Jewish descent 9
  • Using Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
How common is ovarian cancer?

Currently, ovarian cancer is estimated to be the 10th most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in Australian women.1

The chance of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer by the time you are 85 years is estimated to be 1 in 84.1

What can I do to decrease my risk of ovarian cancer?

Whilst the exact cause of ovarian cancer is not known, there are some factors that can reduce your risk for developing ovarian cancer, such as:

  • Pregnancy, breastfeeding and taking birth control reduce the frequency of egg production (ovulation) which is thought to decrease the risk of developing cancer of the ovary.4
  • Tubal ligation (cutting and tying the fallopian tubes) as well as hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) are also thought to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, through the reduction of cancer-causes substances reaching the ovaries. 4
  • Maintaining a healthy weight – Cancer Australia recommends obtaining and maintaining a BMI (body mass index) of between 18.5 – 25 kg/m2. 5

More research is needed to determine the risk of ovarian cancer on; alcohol, diet and the use of aspirin and anti-inflammatory medications. 5

References

For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Cancer Australia. (2018). Ovarian Cancer Statistics. Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://ovarian-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/statistics
  2. Cancer Council. (2018). Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/ovarian-cancer.html
  3. Ovarian Cancer Australia. (2019). Genetics and Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://ovariancancer.net.au/know-ovarian-cancer/genetic-risks/
  4. American Cancer Society. (2018). What Causes Ovarian Cancer? Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/what-causes.html
  5. Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (2019). What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer? Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://ovarian-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/risk-factors
  6. Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (2018). Family History. Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://ovarian-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/family-history
  7. Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (2017). What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer? Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://ovarian-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/symptoms
  8. American Cancer Society. (2018). Ovarian Cancer Stages. Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/staging.html
  9. Cancer Council. (2018). Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/ovarian-cancer.html#jump_5
  10. Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (2017). Treatment options. Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://ovarian-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/treatment
  11. Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (n.d). Chemotherapy. Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://canceraustralia.gov.au/affected-cancer/treatment/chemotherapy
  12. Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (n.d). Hormonal Therapy. Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://canceraustralia.gov.au/affected-cancer/treatment/hormone-therapy
  13. Cancer Council. (2018). Staging and prognosis of ovarian cancer. Retrieved on 1st May 2019 fromhttps://www.cancercouncil.com.au/ovarian-cancer/diagnosis/staging-prognosis/

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