Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is a cancer which forms in the ovaries of female reproductive organs. Most times it is undetected until small tumors line the abdominal cavity and the cancer cells invade vital organs. This cancer, which is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among American women, has recently shown signs that it may have more success with new treatments for all stages of the disease.


Ovarian cancer has often times been known as the "silent killer" of American women, but scientists have recently uncovered startling facts: more than 90% of ovarian cancer patients had symptoms of the disease long before it was officially diagnosed. As well as this amazing fact, one in 17 women who live to be 80 will develop ovarian cancer. Some symptoms of this disease include abdominal swelling; digestive disturbances, which include gas, bloating, chronic stomach pains, or indigestion; pelvic pressure; a persistent need to urinate; unexplained weight loss or pain in the pelvis, lower back, or legs. As it can be seen, these symptoms can pertain to many other illnesses, therefore it is hard for a doctor to know ovarian cancer exists. Most times, when these symptoms do not respond to the usual treatments, doctors are instructed to consider ovarian cancer as the problem.

Diagnosis, Surgery, and Therapy

In order to make a diagnosis, first the doctor requires a thorough medical history of the patient and a pelvic exam, which allows the doctor to feel for abnormalities in the ovaries. If an abnormality is suspected, an ultrasound is usually performed. Usually, for an ultrasound, a probe is placed in the Vagina to gain a clear image of the ovaries. The ultrasound can determine the health of the ovaries and distinguish any more possibilities of the existence of ovarian cancer.

To have a better idea of what’s wrong with the patient, the doctor obtains a blood test on the patient to measure CA-125. CA-125 is a protein produced by ovarian cancer cells. In advanced ovarian cancer, the protein is elevated in more than 80% of women. In those patients with early-stage cancers, the protein is elevated in more than 50%. Unfortunately, this tool is not perfect. Sometimes these protein levels can also be higher during ovulation or endometriosis.

The only certain way to find out if ovarian cancer lives in the patient is to have surgery. During the surgery, the ovaries and other organs of the abdomen are thoroughly inspected. If cancer is strongly suspected, the incision for the surgery is made through the abdomen.

The first stage of ovarian cancer is referred to as stage I. This stage is when the cancer is only located in the ovaries. Stage II is classified to the ovaries and other pelvic organs. Stage III is cancer in all the abdominal organs except for the liver, and stage IV includes the liver and other vital organs. Advanced cases are considered the stages from II to IV. Sometimes in the early stages of ovarian cancer, a woman can still conceive, because only one ovary will be removed. If the stage of cancer is very advanced, both ovaries will be removed, as well as the uterus, fallopian tubes, and the momentum.

Chemotherapy usually makes CA-125 return to their normal levels. If it remains high or rises during therapy, the cancer may have reoccurred. Some studies suggest that if the tumors return within six months of therapy, the cancer cells could be resistant to drug treatment. A woman visits her physician every few months after her surgery and treatment to keep an eye on her CA-125 levels.

Several organizations are trying to develop cancer vaccines targeted at certain cancer-causing proteins, like CA-125. By killing these proteins, they have less of a chance of causing the cancer.

Side Effects

Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells but also damage some normal cells. Temporary side effects might include nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, loss of hair, mouth and vaginal sores, and changes in the menstrual cycle. Because chemotherapy can damage the blood-producing cells of the bone marrow, patients may have low blood cell counts. This can result in an increased chance of infection, bleeding or bruising after minor cuts or injuries, and fatigue. Potentially permanent side effects include premature menopause and infertility.

After radiation therapy,