Ovarian cancer symptoms are vague and may be overlooked, making the tumor difficult to diagnose in the early, more treatable stages. By the time the cancer is diagnosed, it has often metastasized to other organs. Ovarian cancer first invades organs adjacent to the ovaries, but it can spread as far as the lungs or liver in the more advanced stages.
In the earliest stages, ovarian cancer produces no distinguishing symptoms. The symptoms, which include abdominal pressure, changes in bowel or bladder habits, pelvic pain or discomfort, persistent indigestion or gas, lower back pain or menstrual changes, mimic other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or bladder infection (See reference 2). The lack of specific symptoms often delays the diagnosis until ovarian cancer is in an advanced stage.
According to cancerfacts.com, metastasis, or spread to other organs, is a defining characteristic of cancer cells. Cancer cells lack the normal mechanisms controlling growth and division. In addition growing too fast and accumulating into masses to form tumors, cancer cells also have the ability to invade other organs, eventually spreading throughout the body. Ovarian cancer metastasizes in three ways: through direct contact with neighboring organs or tissue; by cells breaking off from the tumor and shedding into the abdominal cavity; or by entering the lymphatic or blood system.
Local metastasis occurs when the ovarian tumor spreads to neighboring organs or tissues. The fallopian tubes, uterus, rectum and bladder are typical sites of local metastasis of ovarian tumors.
Distant metastasis occurs when the ovarian cancer cells travel to organs removed from the ovaries, either by invading the abdominal cavity or traveling through the lymphatic or blood system. By invading the abdominal cavity, ovarian cancer can metastasize to the stomach, colon, liver, peritoneum (the lining of the abdomen and pelvis) or diaphragm. Cancer cells carried through the blood or lymph system can spread throughout the body. Although ovarian cancer cells may enter the lymph and invade the lungs, the cells rarely enter the bloodstream.
Ovarian Cancer Staging
Cancer stages indicate the extent to which the tumor has advanced. The more advanced the cancer, the more difficult it is to treat. Staging is performed through colonoscopy, intestinal X-rays and CT scans of the abdomen. Stage I designates a tumor that is still confined to the ovary whereas a stage II tumor has spread to both ovaries or other pelvic tissues, such as the fallopian tubes. In stage III, the tumor has metastasized to areas outside the pelvis or has entered the lymph nodes. Stage IV, the most advanced stage, indicates the cancer has metastasized to organs distant from the abdomen, such as the lungs or liver.