4 Ovarian Cancer Symptoms Every Woman Must Know

Ovarian cancer is a cancer that forms in or on an ovary.[4][9] It results in abnormal cells that have the ability to invade or spread to other parts of the body.[10] When this process begins, there may be no or only vague symptoms.[1] Symptoms become more noticeable as the cancer progresses.[1][11] These symptoms may include bloating, pelvic pain, abdominal swelling, constipation, and loss of appetite, among others.[1] Common areas to which the cancer may spread include the lining of the abdomen, lymph nodes, lungs, and liver.[12]

The risk of ovarian cancer increases in women who have ovulated more over their lifetime. This includes those who have never had children, those who begin ovulation at a younger age and those who reach menopause at an older age.[3] Other risk factors include hormone therapy after menopause, fertility medication, and obesity.[4][5] Factors that decrease risk include hormonal birth control, tubal ligation, and breast feeding.[5] About 10% of cases are related to inherited genetic risk; women with mutations in the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 have about a 50% chance of developing the disease.[3] Ovarian carcinoma is the most common type of ovarian cancer, comprising more than 95% of cases.[3] There are five main subtypes of ovarian carcinoma, of which high-grade serous carcinoma (HGSC) is the most common.[3] These ovarian tumors are believed to start in the cells covering the ovaries,[3] though some may form at the Fallopian tubes.[13] Less common types of ovarian cancer include germ cell tumors[14] and sex cord stromal tumors.[3] A diagnosis of ovarian cancer is confirmed through a biopsy of tissue, usually removed during surgery.[1]

Screening is not recommended in women who are at average risk, as evidence does not support a reduction in death and the high rate of false positive tests may lead to unneeded surgery, which is accompanied by its own risks.[15] Those at very high risk may have their ovaries removed as a preventive measure.[4] If caught and treated in an early stage, ovarian cancer is often curable.[1] Treatment usually includes some combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.[1] Outcomes depend on the extent of the disease, the subtype of cancer present, and other medical conditions.[16][3] The overall five-year survival rate in the United States is 49%.[6] Outcomes are worse in the developing world.[3]

In 2012, new cases occurred in approximately 239,000 women.[3] In 2015 it was present in 1.2 million women and resulted in 161,100 deaths worldwide.[8][7] Among women it is the seventh-most common cancer and the eighth-most common cause of death from cancer.[3] The typical age of diagnosis is 63.[2] Death from ovarian cancer is more common in North America and Europe than in Africa and Asia.[3]
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