Ovarian cancer is the abnormal growth of the cells in and around the ovaries. Cancer can start in the epithelial cells that cover the ovaries, on the germ cells that produce the eggs or the connective tissue that holds the ovaries together and produces estrogen and progesterone. Sometimes, when a woman has a hysterectomy, doctors will leave the ovaries behind to prevent her from entering early menopause. If a woman has had a hysterectomy, but her ovaries are intact, she can still develop ovarian cancer.
Most Common Symptoms
The symptoms of ovarian cancer can mimic other diseases and the disease often goes unnoticed until other treatments fail. According to the American Cancer Society, the most common symptoms are abdominal pressure with fullness, swelling and bloating. There is also urinary urgency, or the frequent need to urinate, and pelvic discomfort or pain. These symptoms are present regardless of whether the woman has a uterus.
Additional Signs and Symptoms
A woman may experience persistent indigestion, gas or nausea that does not respond to other treatments. She may have unexplained changes in bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhea. Or she may experience a loss of appetite or tendency to feel full quickly when she does eat. A woman may have pain during intercourse or lower back pain. If the disease progresses without treatment, she may suffer from a persistent lack of energy. Because these symptoms can also occur in women who do not have cervical cancer, it is important to get proper diagnostic testing.
CT scans, MRIs and abdominal ultrasounds can all detect the growth of tumors on and around the ovaries. These tests can also detect if the tumors have spread to other structures. A colonoscopy can determine if tumors are present in the colon or rectum. A doctor may also use laparoscopy—insertion of surgical cameras—to view the organs in the abdominal cavity and take tissue samples for biopsy. The doctor may also use standard tests such as blood counts and liver panels, to test organ function. He may also order a CA-125 test. If the levels are elevated, it may indicate the presence of cervical cancer.