Ovarian cancer is a disease in which cancer cells develop within the ovaries. It develops in about one out of 75 women in the US, and it is the fifth most lethal cancer in women between the ages of 35 and 74. If a woman is diagnosed during the early stages, however, she has a 90 percent chance of surviving the next five years. Unfortunately, only about 20 percent of patients are diagnosed during those early stages.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
The four most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include the following:
- Pain in the abdomen and/or the pelvis
- Changes in urination habits, like increased frequency or increased urgency (always feeling like you have to go)
- Trouble eating or quickly getting full
While the above symptoms can be caused by other conditions, including cancers of other organs, their persistence can indicate ovarian cancer. If a woman experiences the above symptoms more than 12 times in a month, she should see a doctor like the team at Associates in Women’s Health.
Other symptoms that can occur with ovarian cancer include:
- Changes in menstruation
- Pain during intercourse
- Weight loss accompanied by a swollen abdomen
- Back pain
- Upset stomach
These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, and not all women who develop them have ovarian cancer. Still, if they persist, a woman should see her doctor.
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
The doctor will start by conducting a physical exam. They will look for signs of possible cancer like fluid in the abdomen called ascites or an enlarged ovary. If they find such signs, they will refer the patient to a gynecologic oncologist, a specialist that treats cancers of the female reproductive system.
The gynecologic oncologist will begin by ordering imaging tests like an ultrasound, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans. While these tests can’t confirm that a patient has cancer, they can detect the presence of a mass, and they can tell if the cancer has spread or metastasized to other parts of the body.
The oncologist will usually order the ultrasound test first. It will enable the oncologist to tell if the patient has a tumor or a cyst, and it will help them determine how enlarged the affected ovary is. The ultrasound can even let the oncologist view the ovary from the inside.
While CT scans generally can’t spot small tumors, they can detect large ones. They can also detect enlarged nymph nodes, which can indicate that the cancer has metastasized to other organs like the liver or bladder.
If the oncologist suspects that the cancer has spread to another organ, they may order more tests. For example, if the oncologist suspects the cancer has spread to the patient’s lungs, they will order a chest X-ray.
The oncologist will also order a tissue biopsy. During this procedure, the oncologist will take a tissue sample from the suspicious growth and examine it under a microscope. If the patient has ascites, or an accumulation of fluid in their abdomen, the oncologist can take a sample of the fluid for examination. In both cases, the oncologist will send the samples to a pathology lab for analysis.
If you have more questions about the symptoms of ovarian cancer or your chances of developing this unfortunate disease, you should schedule a consultation with the team at the Associates in Women’s Health in Cincinnati to discuss further.