Ovarian Cancer - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatment
Health Education

Tackling Ovarian Cancer

Dr.Shravanthi V profile Authored by Dr.Shravanthi V on 23 Sep 2015 - 16:36.

ovarian-cancerOvarian cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the ovaries and are attached  to the uterus that make the eggs necessary for conceiving a child. It is difficult to determine ovarian cancer in its early stage and is often discovered when it has already metastasized (spread throughout the body).

Therefore, unlike other types of cancer such as breast cancer, the survival rank of ovarian cancer is much lower. The American Cancer Society states that there will be more than 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer determined this year, out of them more than 15000 women will die from ovarian cancer. Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most common type of ovarian cancer that springs up from the surface (epithelium) or maybe from inside of the fallopian tube, according to the JAMA Journal.

Dr. David Cohn, professor of obstetrics and gynecology said that although ovarian cancer is rare in the United States, it is the fifth major cause of cancer death in women.

"Women who have ovulated more, which means they've never been pregnant and never breast fed, and haven't taken birth control pills, have a higher chance of the disease compared to those who have been pregnant, breast fed and taken birth control pills," adds Dr Cohn. 

The causes for ovarian cancer are unknown.

Ovarian cancer is not easy to determine because these two almond shaped organs are located one on each side of the uterus. Although symptoms of ovarian cancer are indefinable, there are some potential signs that include:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Pelvic pain
  • Heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual changes
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Fatigue
  • Urinary frequency

    However, when the above symptoms last for a longer time and do not settle with normal treatmentsuch as physical activity, diet changes and laxatives, it is essential for a woman to immediately get checked with a doctor.


Doctors diagnose your ovarian cancer risk with the help of following methods:

  • Physical examination
  • Complete blood count test
  • Ultrasound
  • X-rays
  • Computed Tomography(CT)
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Family history of ovarian cancer
  • Transvaginal sonography
  • Rectovaginal Exam for women above 35 years

On the other hand, the only means to confirm ovarian cancer is by performing a biopsy, a process in which the doctor takes a sample distribution of tumor and analyses it under a microscope.The main treatment for ovarian cancer is the surgical removal of uterus (Hysterectomy) in addition with removal of both ovaries as well as fallopian tubes. In most cases, they even provide chemotherapy because ovarian cancer is usually discovered at an advanced stage.


According to American Cancer society certain factors develop the probability of epithelial ovarian cancer. Some of them include:

  • Genetic factor: A cohort study showed that about 3% of ovarian cancer cases exist in women with a family history and have about 2.7-3.5 times higher riskof ovarian cancer as compared with women who has/ had no such family history, according to National Institutes of Health.
  • HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy): According to the International Agency for research on cancer, the use of HRT is classified as a cause of ovarian cancer. A cohort study showed that ovarian cancer risk was 53% more among long-term (more than five years) current oestrogen-only HRT users as compared with never users and 17% moreamong long-term oestrogen-progesterone HRT users as compared with never users, according to The Lancet Journal.
  • Age: The risk of ovarian cancer increases as woman gets older. Women aged above 55 years are at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer and studies have shown that almost half of all ovarian cancers are observed among women who are 63 years of age.
  • Gene mutations: The most important risk factor for ovarian cancer is an inherited gene mutation in one or two genes: BRCA1 (Breast cancer gene 1) or BRCA2 (Breast cancer gene 2). Women afflicted with BRCA1 are at an increased risk of ovarian cancer by 35-70 percent whereas those with BRCA2 are about 10-30 percent higher risk.
  • Obesity: A 2009 study discovered that obesity was linked with about 80% higher risk of ovarian cancer. Women with a BMI (Body mass index) of 30 or more are at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. A meta-analysis showed that ovarian cancer risk among HRT (hormone replacement therapy) never-users was10% greater per 5-unit BMI increment, according to the PLOS Medicine Journal.




You doctor will plan your treatment based on the type of ovarian cancer, the stage and your past medical history. The five main treatments for ovarian cancer include:

  • Surgery: It is one of the leading treatments recommended for ovarian cancer patients. Since there are different types of ovarian cancers such as epithelial ovarian cancer, gem cell tumors and stromal tumors, experts suggest that people should see a gynecologic oncologist who are experienced in this treatment.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drugs that are usually given intravenously and followed every 3 to 4 weeks to destroy cancer cells. Chemo is a systematic treatment (drugs) useful for cancers which has spread throughout the body, as the drug reaches all parts of the body through the blood.
  • Radiation therapy: This therapy treats cancer by using high energy x-rays or particles to destroy the cancer cells. Each session lasts for few minutes, which is similar to regular x-rays. The length of the treatment depends upon the size and type of the cancer.
  • Hormone therapy:  This therapy is used to treat ovarian stromal tumors rather than epithelial ovarian cancer. Hormone therapy is the use of hormone blocking drugs to fight cancer.
  • Targeted therapies: Targeted therapy is a new type of cancer treatment that uses substances or drugs to identify the difference between cancer cells and normal cells, while doing a little damage to normal cells. Each therapy works in a different way. Bevacizumab is one such type of targeted therapy that has been licensed as a treatment for advanced ovarian cancer and works by binding a substance that incites new blood vessels to form. This can shrink the growth of cancers.


Reference: JAMA Journal, The Lancet Journal, PLOS Medicine Journal; American Cancer Society, National Institutes of Health, International Agency for research on cancer




Here are various ways you can reduce your risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer. It is important to understand that some of these strategies reduce the risk to a moderate extent, while others decrease it much more. Some strategies are easily followed, and others require surgery.

  • Birth control pills: Birth control pills also known as oral contraceptives decreases the risk of establishing ovarian cancer, particularly among women who have been using them from couple of years. Studies have shown that women who used oral contraceptives for more than five years were 50% less liable to develop ovarian cancer as compared with those who never took oral contraceptives.
  • Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding is associated to a decreased chance for ovarian cancer. The longer a woman breastfeeds, the more she is protected against ovarian cancer.
  • Gynecologic surgery: Hysterectomy (removal of uterus) as well as tubal ligation both reduces the risk of developing ovarian cancer. However experts warn that these surgeries should be done only for medical reasons and not for prevention of ovarian cancer.
  • Diet and Exercise: Most of the Experts advice to follow a diet rich in fiber and avoid fatty foods in order to be protected from ovarian cancer. Studies have revealed that adopting a low-fat diet for a minimum 4 years can reduce the risk for ovarian cancer. Furthermore, women are motivated to exercise at least three times a week in order to prolong a body fat percentage that is within the accepted range. 



*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.