Ovarian cancer is cancer of the ovaries, the two female reproductive glands located on either side of the uterus. Approximately 21,290 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in 2015, making it the second most common type of gynecologic cancer. Because the symptoms of ovarian cancer are often overlooked or mistaken for common illnesses, this disease often goes undiagnosed until it progresses to more advanced and difficult to treat stages.
Malignant or cancerous tumors of the ovaries are comprised of three possible cell types: epithelial, germ or stromal cells.
- Epithial cells cover the surface of the ovary and these tumors are the most common type of ovarian cancer (nine out of 10 cases).
- Germ cells are those cells that make up individual eggs. Ovarian germ cell tumors usually occur in teenage girls or young women and most often affect just one ovary.
- Stromal cell malignancies are also uncommon. These are cells that produce female hormones estrogen and progesterone and are present in the supporting connective tissue of the ovary.
Ovarian cancer can invade, shed, or spread to other organs. Both germ cell and stromal cell tumors are rare and together account for less than 10 percent of cases.
- Invade: A malignant ovarian tumor can grow and invade organs next to the ovaries, such as the fallopian tubes and uterus.
- Shed: Cancer cells can shed (break off) from the main ovarian tumor. Shedding into the abdomen may lead to new tumors forming on the surface of nearby organs and tissues. The doctor may call these seeds or implants.
- Spread: Cancer cells can spread through the lymphatic system to lymph nodes in the pelvis, abdomen, and chest. Cancer cells may also spread through the bloodstream to organs such as the liver and lungs.
When cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the original tumor. For example, if ovarian cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually ovarian cancer cells. The disease is metastatic ovarian cancer, not liver cancer. For that reason, it is treated as ovarian cancer, not liver cancer. Doctors call the new tumor "distant" or metastatic disease.
Our Approach to Ovarian Cancer
We understand the seriousness and complexity of this disease. We know that to treat ovarian cancer effectively requires not just one but many approaches, beginning with advanced screening and genetic testing to promote early detection, followed by surgery, chemotherapy and, occasionally, radiation. We believe with continued research, we will be able to push the boundaries of standard treatment even further to offer our patients innovative alternatives such as targeted drug therapies and vaccines. We accept that ovarian cancer is one of the more difficult gynecologic cancers to treat, but we take on the challenge with confidence.
Signs & Symptoms
Not all women who develop ovarian cancer have a family history of the disease or any other known risk factors beyond advanced age. For these women, physical symptoms may be the only indicator that cancer is present. These symptoms are often overlooked or get mistaken for common illness, so the disease may go undetected until it has progressed beyond treatment.
Women experiencing the following symptoms for more than two weeks should consult a physician:
- bloating or sudden weight loss
- pelvic or abdominal pain
- urinary frequency
- indigestion or feeling full quickly
- pelvic pressure
- abnormal or post-menopausal bleeding