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Ovarian Cancer

Symptoms, risk factors and treatment of ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common form of cancer in women across the US, with 25,000 women are diagnosed each year. There is no early screening method for this type of cancer, so it is often diagnosed in later stages, and may be diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other areas. It also presents in different forms outside of just the ovary, such as in the epithelial cells, egg-forming germ cells or the supporting tissue of the ovary.

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of ovarian cancer often don't present in the early stages of the disease, but as it progresses, the following may occur:

  • Pain or pressure in the back, legs, abdomen or pelvis
  • Unusual fatigue or feeling rundown
  • Swelling or bloating in the abdomen
  • Constipation, diarrhea, nausea, indigestion or gas

Less common symptoms include frequent urination, shortness of breath and unusual vaginal bleeding, such as heavy periods or bleeding after menopause.

While all of these symptoms may be unrelated to ovarian cancer, it's important to report them to your doctor so you can be screened for the disease through blood tests, ultrasounds or biopsy if necessary.

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors for cancer of the ovaries include the following:

  • Age. Women over 55 are at highest risk for ovarian cancer.
  • Childlessness. Women who have never been pregnant have been shown to have higher risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Women who have had menopausal hormone therapy. Studies have indicated that women who have taken estrogen on its own (not in tandem with progesterone) for a decade or more may have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.

One of the most common indicators of ovarian cancer risk is a history with cancer. If you've had ovarian or breast cancer or the women in your family have had breast, ovarian, uterine, colon or rectal cancer, you may be at higher risk for developing ovarian cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Treatment

Ovarian cancer is commonly treated chemotherapy. Types of chemotherapy include intraperitoneal (chemotherapy is given directly into the pelvis and abdomen through a tube) or systemic (chemotherapy taken by mouth or injected into a vein).

In rare cases, surgery and radiation may be used to treat ovarian cancer.

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