What Is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer is malignant, or cancerous, cells that affect tissues in the ovaries. These tissues may be the cells that cover the ovaries (epithelial cells), the cells inside the ovaries that produce eggs (germ cells), or the cells that hold the ovaries together and produce female hormones (stromal cells). For women with ovarian cancer or any other type of gynecologic cancer, Moffitt Cancer Center is known for providing world-class, individualized treatment, as well as some of the highest survival rates and an improved quality of life.

Types of ovarian cancer

The three main types of ovarian cancer are named for the type of cells in which they originate. These include epithelial tumors (the most common type), stromal tumors and germ cell tumors. Each of these three main ovarian cancer types can be further broken down into subcategories, leading to more than 30 different kinds of ovarian cancer overall.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer

Symptoms of ovarian cancer sometimes aren’t noticeable until the cancer has reached an advanced stage, and even then, they can be hard to recognize because they are symptoms that can easily be attributed to other, noncancerous causes. Some examples of these symptoms include:

  • Indigestion
  • Abdominal bloating or swelling
  • Back or pelvic pain
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent urination
  • Changes in bowels, such as constipation
  • Feeling full very quickly after eating

Experiencing one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily indicate ovarian cancer, but it is a good idea to consult with your physician if symptoms have a sudden onset or persist for more than two weeks, or if you are feeling at all concerned.

Ovarian cancer causes

Cancerous tumors develop when genetic mutations cause healthy cells to rapidly divide and multiply, accumulating into malignant masses. What exactly causes these DNA mutations is unknown, but some theories suggest that they may be inherited in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. Another possibility is that gene mutations could potentially be acquired following certain radiation or chemical exposure.

Ovarian cancer diagnosis

To diagnose ovarian cancer, a physician will typically perform a pelvic exam and order imaging tests – such as a transvaginal ultrasound or CT scan – of the patient’s abdomen and pelvis. A blood test is also commonly run because it can detect protein CA-125, which is normally present on the surface of ovarian cancer cells. If any of these tests suggest cancer may be present, a biopsy will be performed to obtain tissue samples so that a pathologist can make a conclusive diagnosis.

Stages of ovarian cancer

During the diagnostic process, ovarian cancer is staged by evaluating aspects of the tumor such as its size, the extent of its spread and whether lymph nodes have been affected. Identifying a cancer’s stage is especially helpful in developing an effective treatment plan.

Stage 1

At stage 1, ovarian cancer is generally confined to one or both ovaries. This stage can be broken down into sub-stages: 1A (the cancer is in just one ovary), 1B (the cancer is in both ovaries) or 1C (the cancer is present on the outer surface of the ovary/ovaries, the tumor has ruptured or cancer cells have entered the abdominal fluid).

Stage 2

At stage 2, the cancer has spread within the pelvic region. If the cancer has spread to the uterus and/or the fallopian tubes, it is classified as stage 2A; if the caner has reached other organs in the pelvic region, it is classified as stage 2B. If the cancer is present on the outer surface of the ovary/ovaries, the tumor has ruptured or cancer cells have entered the abdominal fluid, it is classified as stage 2C.

Stage 3

At stage 3, ovarian cancer can spread beyond the pelvic region. Stages 3A and 3B indicate the cancer has spread to abdominal surfaces (at 3B, a larger amount of cancer is present). At stage 3C, the cancer may have reached the lymph nodes.

Stage 4

Stage 4 ovarian cancer has spread away from the pelvic region to distant organs.

What are the treatment options for ovarian cancer?

At Moffitt, every ovarian cancer patient receives an individualized treatment plan that is tailored to her unique preferences and needs. Treatment may comprise any combination of various options, which include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Hormone therapy

Moffitt’s approach to ovarian cancer treatment

We understand that facing a diagnosis or suspicion of ovarian cancer can be overwhelming, which is why we provide the highest quality treatment and offer our services and support in one convenient location. At Moffitt’s gynecological clinic, patients receive personal care in a warm, elegant environment. Our patients benefit from:

  • Cutting-edge treatment and technology – We perform various surgical procedures, many of which are done with the assistance of robotics for a minimally invasive approach. We also offer a wide range of options for care, including fertility preservation therapies and integrative medicine services such as yoga, massage and nutrition counseling.
  • A multispecialty team – At Moffitt, we believe in taking a multispecialty approach to cancer treatment, which means that we have an entire team of specialists, as opposed to a single physician, working together to treat our patients. Each week, experts from all specialties get together in a tumor board review to discuss cases in detail. Our team consists of gynecologic oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, radiation oncologists, reproductive endocrinologists, experienced nurses, social workers and other supportive care providers.
  • Nationally recognized research – As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, we are developing new therapies for ovarian cancer and other gynecologic cancers every day. We offer our patients the latest options in clinical trials, and through those efforts, Moffitt is taking great strides in research and individualized care.

Please call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online if you have any questions about ovarian cancer or would like to schedule an appointment. You do not need to have a referral to visit Moffitt Cancer Center.

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