Ovarian cancer is a cancer that begins in an ovary. About one in every 50 (2% of) women in the UK develops ovarian cancer during her lifetime. The causes of ovarian cancer are not yet completely understood. The risk of developing ovarian cancer is very low in young women and increases as women get older. More than eight out of 10 (80% of) ovarian cancers occur in women over the age of 50
What causes ovarian cancer?
The risk of ovarian cancer increases in people who ovulate more, those who have never had children are at increased risk, as are those who begin ovulation at a younger age or reach menopause at an older age. Other risk factors include hormone therapy after menopause and fertility medication. Having ovarian cysts before the age of 30 increases the risks of ovarian cancer in future but most women who have had ovarian cysts before the age of 30 won’t ever develop ovarian cancer.
About 10% of cases are related to inherited genetic risk; if your mother or sister has had ovarian cancer, this slightly increases your risk of developing it. But the risk is still low - about one in 20 (5%). A small number of ovarian cancers, about one in 10 (10%) are thought to be due to an inherited altered gene (genetic mutation). Women with the gene mutations BRCA1 or BRCA2 have about a 50% chance of developing the disease.
Lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity and diet high in animal fats and low in fresh fruit and vegetables may increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Hormonal conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis are associated with ovarian cancer, but the link is not completely confirmed.
What to look out for?
When this process begins, symptoms may be vague or not apparent, but they become more noticeable as the cancer progresses. These symptoms may include bloating, pelvic pain, and abdominal swelling, among others. Common areas to which the cancer may spread include the lining of the abdomen, lungs and liver.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis of ovarian cancer starts with a physical examination (including a pelvic examination), a blood test and an ultrasound.
If caught and treated in an early stage, ovarian cancer may be curable. Treatment usually includes some combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Surgical treatment can be sufficient and chemotherapy may be required for more aggressive tumors confined to the ovary. For patients with advanced disease, a combination of surgical reduction with a combination chemotherapy regimen is standard.
For more information on ovarian cancer please call us on 0208 709 7817
Miss Farida Bano, Consultant Gynaecologist