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Gynaecologic Problems: Ovarian Cancer


Ovarian cancer is a disease in which malignant cells are found in an ovary. There are three types of ovarian tumours, named for the tissue in which they are found:

  • Epithelial cell - cells that cover the surface of the ovary. Most of these tumours are benign. However, epithelial ovarian cancer accounts for 85-90% of ovarian cancer cases.
  • Germ cell - cells that form the eggs in the ovary.
  • Stromal cell - cells that form the ovary and produce female hormones.

For information on the other main cancers to affect the female reproductive system go here .

Risk Factors

The cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, but there are certain risk factors that indicate an increase in a woman's chance of developing ovarian cancer. The following have been suggested as risk factors for ovarian cancer:

  • Starting monthly periods early, i.e. before the age of 12.
  • Late menopause .
  • Infertility .
  • Having a first child after the age of 30.
  • History of breast cancer.
  • Family history.
  • Fertility drugs

Symptoms and Signs

Symptoms may be so vague that they are easily ignored, and may include:

  • General discomfort in the lower abdomen, including any/all of the following:
    Feeling swollen or bloated
    A loss of appetite or a feeling of fullness -- even after a light meal
    Gas, indigestion, and nausea
  • Weight loss.
  • Diarrhoea or constipation, or frequent urination caused by the growing tumour, which may press on nearby organs, such as the bowel or bladder.
  • Bleeding from the vagina (a rare symptom).
  • Build up of fluid around the lungs, which may cause shortness of breath.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis includes a medical history and physical exam, including a pelvic exam to feel the vagina, rectum, and lower abdomen for masses or growths. A Pap test may be requested as part of the pelvic exam. The physician may also order other tests, including:

  • Ultrasound
  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan
  • Lower gastrointestinal (GI) series of x-rays of the colon and rectum
  • An intravenous pyelogram (IVP) x-ray of the kidneys and ureters, taken after the injection of a dye
  • A blood test to measure a substance in the blood called CA-125 -- a tumour marker
  • Biopsy , removing tissue from the ovary in an operation called a laparotomy

Ovarian cancer may be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these, called adjuvant therapy .

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1. Motherisk, The Hospital for Sick Children:

Other HON resources 
   From MedHunt

Cancer in women
    From HONselect
     (def;articles & more)   



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Contact Last modified: Jun 25 2002