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Ovarian Cancer

A woman's reproductive system contains two ovaries, which are vital in the role of reproduction. The ovaries are attached to either side of the uterus and are responsible for producing sex hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, as well as releasing eggs.

Sometimes, the orderly process of cell growth, death, and replacement becomes compromised. Cells begin to grow out of control and without order. When this happens, a tumor can develop on or inside the ovaries. The tumor can be benign or malignant. Malignant tumors are cancer. The two most common types of ovarian cancer are germ cell carcinoma and epithelial carcinoma. Germ cell cancer begins in the egg cells located within the ovaries. Ovarian epithelial cancer develops from cells that make up the surface of the ovary.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

• Fatigue

• Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back, or legs

• A bloated or full feeling in the abdomen or pelvis

• Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation, or diarrhea

Ovarian tumors are at risk for spreading to other organs, a process called metastasis. Ovarian cancer can metastasize in three ways:

• Invasion: the tumor grows large enough to invade nearby organs

• Shedding: Individual cancer cells break off from the main ovarian tumor and transplant to nearby organs

• Spread: Cancer cells travel through the lymphatic system to lymph nodes and other organs in the pelvis, abdomen, and chest.

The diagnosis of ovarian cancer is made by physical and pelvic exams, transvaginal ultrasound, CA-125 blood test, and biopsy. Cancer of the ovaries is the leading cause of reproductive cancer death in women, as it is often diagnosed at an advanced stage.

Ovarian cancer treatment most often includes surgery to remove the ovaries and any other organs that may be affected. Chemotherapy and radiation may also be used to treat other symptoms or complications of the disease. Prognosis depends on the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed.