Ovarian Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

The ovarian cancer is the development of a malignant tumor inside the ovaries or the area near the fallopian tubes.

About 20% of ovarian cancer cases are detected at an early stage. When this disease is found early in a localized stage, approximately 94% of patients live more than five years after diagnosis.

Comprehensive studies are underway to find out the best ways to find ovarian cancer in its earliest stages.

Routine medical examinations for women.

During a pelvic exam, the healthcare professional palpates the ovaries and uterus to examine their size, shape, and consistency.

A pelvic examination may be useful because early reproductive cancers can be found early in the procedure, but even for the most skilled examiner, it is difficult or even impossible to feel most of the ovarian tumors in their early stages.

However, pelvic exams can help identify other types of cancers or gynecological conditions. Women should consult with their doctors about the need for these tests.

The Pap test is useful for early detection of cervical cancer, but it is not a test to find ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancers are rarely detected by Pap tests, although these cancers are usually advanced.

Description and Symptoms

Ovarian cancer is formed from rapidly-dividing cancer cells in the ovary. The most common type is the epithelial carcinoma, which occurs in the surface layers of the ovary.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague and may be mistaken for less severe conditions. The main symptoms are:

  1. Persistent bloating of the abdomen. If the bloating comes and goes, it is much more likely to be down to some problem in the digestive system.
  2. Persistent pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis. If that discomfort is hinted to be associated with periods, it may well be caused by endometriosis, a very common disease in women. Nonetheless, a physician should still be consulted.
  3. Feeling full more quickly than usual when eating. This may also be a symptom of many other diseases but does need investigation.
  4. Feeling nauseous when eating. There can be many different reasons for nausea, including diseases of the digestive system.
  5. Difficulty eating.
  6. Needing to pass water more frequently. Many common conditions, such as fibroids, endometriosis, bladder infections, and diabetes may also cause more frequent urination.
  7. Back Pain. The pain from ovarian cancer is often a dull background pain, in contrast to the sharp pain usually felt when the back muscles are damaged.

Not everybody with ovarian cancer will have all the symptoms. Anybody who has some of these symptoms should immediately consult a physician to check.

Ovarian cancer is rare in women under 40, so in these cases, it is very likely that there will be other reasons for the symptoms.

Benign cysts and tumors can also occur in the ovary and may give very similar symptoms.

Nobody should jump to the conclusion that they have ovarian cancer until it has been confirmed by proper medical tests.

As cancer grows, it can lead to an accumulation of fluid and swell in the abdomen (ascites). Secondary cancer can develop in the intestine, liver, uterus, or other organs.

Typically these secondary cancers prove to be a lot deadlier than any tumor in the ovaries.

Ovarian Cancer Causes

In most cases, there is no apparent cause of ovarian cancer. There is a genetic component to some cases of the disease, so the risk is if a close relative has had ovarian cancer.

The risk of cancer increases with age. Hormone-replacement therapy increases the risk. Previous pregnancy and taking the oral contraceptive pill decrease the risk.

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of ovarian cancer, you should consult your doctor, who will examine you and may order some tests.

Physical exam.

Your doctor will first prepare a medical history and perform a physical examination to look for signs of ovarian cancer.

These include an enlarged ovary (on a pelvic exam) and signs of fluid in the abdomen, called ascites.

If there is a reason to suspect you have ovarian cancer, based on your symptoms and/or physical examination, your doctor will order some additional tests.

Ask a specialist.

If the results of your pelvic exam or other tests indicate that you have ovarian cancer, you will need to consult with a doctor or surgeon who specializes in treating women with this type of cancer.

An oncology gynecologist is an obstetrician/gynecologist specially trained in treating diseases related to cancer in the female reproductive system.

The treatment offered by an oncologist specializing in gynecology helps ensure that you receive the best kind of surgery for your cancer.

Also, it has been shown to improve ovarian cancer patients live longer. Any woman who suspects having ovarian cancer should consult with this type of specialist before undergoing surgery.

Image Studies.

Imaging studies, such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound studies can confirm if there is any pelvic mass.

These studies cannot confirm that the mass is cancer, but they may be helpful if your doctor wants to know if ovarian cancer has spread to other tissues and organs.


Surgery is the primary treatment. The extent of the operation will depend on how far the cancer is advanced and whether the patient still wishes to have children.

If the cancer is caught in the early stages and confined to one ovary, then that ovary alone, and its associated fallopian tube may be removed. The other ovary will still produce eggs, so pregnancy is still possible.

Usually, more radical surgery is carried out. Often both ovaries, the fallopian tubes, and the womb (uterus) are removed, along with any tumors elsewhere in the body.

Chemotherapy is a standard treatment for ovarian cancer. Usually, it is carried out following surgery.

A wide range of anti-cancer drugs is used. Sometimes the drugs are injected into a vein (iv administration), or they may be injected directly into the abdominal cavity (intraperitoneal, or IP, administration).

Radiotherapy is seldom used for ovarian cancer, because of the risk of damage to other vital organs.

Bevacizumab (Avastin) is a new targeted therapy, recently approved for the treatment of ovarian cancer where other methods have failed.

The drug is a monoclonal antibody that inhibits the growth of new blood vessels to tumors, hence stopping their growth. It is a costly drug, so is only used where the common chemotherapy drugs prove ineffective.

Fake Avastin has been reported in the USA, so health professionals should be careful as to how they source this drug.

Samples of the fake Avastin contained salt, starch, and a cocktail of chemicals, but none of the active ingredient.

Advanced label printers are now relatively cheap, so it is easy for criminals to fake drug labels and packaging.