Ovarian cancer is cancer that develops in one or both ovaries, which are glands in females where reproductive eggs are made. In most cases the cancer forms on the ovary’s surface. Although many cases of ovarian cancer are not caught until the cancer has metastasized, or spread, outside of the ovaries, improvements in treatment and diagnosis have increased survival rates. One out of every 71 women has a lifetime risk of getting ovarian cancer, and more than 20,000 new U.S. cases are diagnosed annually. This disease is most common in women over the age of 45, and the average age of diagnosis is 63.
Ovarian cancer comes in several varieties. The most common type, epithelial tumors, occurs in the outside lining of the ovary. Cancer can also develop inside the eggs contained in the ovary. These tumors are called germ cell carcinomas. A third type can form in the tissue cells that make up the ovary and produce hormones. Tumors of this type are called stromal carcinomas.
According to the National Cancer Institute, hormone replacement therapy may increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Genetics may also give some women a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Women over the age of 60 and women who are obese are at an increased risk for the disease as well. Having the first child after the age of 30 and infertility are also risk factors. Having never been pregnant is another risk for ovarian cancer.
An effective standardized screening test does not exist for ovarian cancer. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are very nonspecific and are often misdiagnosed in the beginning. Symptoms include abdominal swelling or bloating, pain with intercourse, changes in bowel and/or bladder habits, pelvic discomfort, and lower back pain. If cancer is suspected or if a patient is at risk of developing the disease, a physician may perform a pelvic exam, an ultrasound, or a blood test to look for the presence of a protein called CA 125, which is usually present in large amounts when...
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