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Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Periodically throughout the month of September I will be featuring information on ovarian cancer since it is a very difficult cancer to diagnose.

The following information is just an overview of ovarian cancer. For more complete information, check out the links at the end of this article.

Ovarian cancer usually affects women over the age of 50, although it also affects younger women. It is a very hard cancer to diagnose since there may be no symptoms or the symptoms may be vague and hard to distinguish from less serious health issues.


The symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

- Heavy feeling in pelvis
- Pain in lower abdomen
- Bleeding from the vagina
- Weight gain or loss
- Abnormal periods
- Unexplained back pain that gets worse
- Gas, nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite


Doctors can’t always explain why one women gets ovarian cancer and another doesn’t, but studies have shown there are certain risk factors for ovarian cancer:

- Family history of cancer: Women who have a mother, daughter, or sister with ovarian cancer have an increased risk of the disease. Also, women with a family history of cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum may also have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

If several women in a family have ovarian or breast cancer, especially at a young age, this is considered a strong family history. If you have a strong family history of ovarian or breast cancer, you may wish to talk to a genetic counselor. The counselor may suggest genetic testing for you and the women in your family. Genetic tests can sometimes show the presence of specific gene changes that increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
-Personal history of cancer: Women who have had cancer of the breast, uterus, colon, or rectum have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
- Age over 55: Most women are over age 55 when diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
- Never pregnant: Older women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
- Menopausal hormone therapy: Some studies have suggested that women who take estrogen by itself (estrogen without progesterone) for 10 or more years may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

If you experience any of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor. Your doctor will talk to you about your medical history and may order one or more of the following tests: a physical exam, pelvic exam, blood tests, ultrasound, or biopsy.

If you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, your cancer needs to be staged so your doctor knows the best treatment to use. It is important to know if the cancer has spread. Tests that may be ordered include CT scan, chest x-ray, barium enema x-ray, or colonoscopy.

These are the stages of ovarian cancer:

- Stage I: Cancer cells are found in one or both ovaries. Cancer cells may be found on the surface of the ovaries or in fluid collected from the abdomen.
- Stage II: Cancer cells have spread from one or both ovaries to other tissues in the pelvis. Cancer cells are found on the fallopian tubes, the uterus, or other tissues in the pelvis. Cancer cells may be found in fluid collected from the abdomen.
- Stage III: Cancer cells have spread to tissues outside the pelvis or to the regional lymph nodes. Cancer cells may be found on the outside of the liver.
- Stage IV: Cancer cells have spread to tissues outside the abdomen and pelvis. Cancer cells may be found inside the liver, in the lungs, or in other organs.


Cancer treatment can affect cancer cells in the pelvis, in the abdomen, or throughout the body:

Local Therapy: Surgery and radiation therapy are local therapies. They remove or destroy ovarian cancer in the pelvis. When ovarian cancer has spread to other parts of the body, local therapy may be used to control the disease in those specific areas.

Intraperitoneal chemotherapy: Chemotherapy can be given directly into the abdomen and pelvis through a thin tube. The drugs destroy or control cancer in the abdomen and pelvis.

Systemic chemotherapy: When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein, the drugs enter the bloodstream and destroy or control cancer throughout the body.

It is important that you discuss all treatment options with your doctor. You may want to get a second opinion and you probably have a lot of questions.

For more detailed descriptions of this information, check out What You Need to Know about Ovarian Cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

What Is Ovarian Cancer? from the American Cancer SocietyOvarian Cancer Interactive Tutorial from the Patient Education Institute

For links to more information on all aspects of ovarian cancer, visit the MedlinePlus Ovarian Cancer health topic

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