Among gynecological tumors, for example, cervical cancer and endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer is the most silent, difficult to diagnose and lethal. Understand the main symptoms of the disease, how to prevent it and many other information, with explanations from the oncologist Dr. Rafaela Pirolli.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
According to Dr. Rafaela, “ovarian cancer is the generic name for the different types of malignant tumors that affect the ovaries”. These are “the organs responsible for the production of female sex hormones, for the storage of eggs and are located in the female pelvis”.
Tumors arise “when abnormal cells begin to grow and divide uncontrollably in the ovary”. Dr. highlights that “ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecological neoplasm, behind only cervical cancer”.
Types of ovarian cancer
Pirolli explains that “ovarian cancer can originate from 3 types of cells”. See what they are:
- Epithelial tumors: In this case, the tumor “arises in tissue on the outer surface of the organ. It is the most common type, representing about 95% of cases”.
- Germ cell tumors: This type of ovarian cancer starts “in the cells that produce the eggs. They are rare, affect younger women and have a high chance of cure”, he informs.
- Stromal or sex cord tumors: these tumors “appear in the cells that produce female hormones. Also very rare and more likely to be cured.”
Now that you know the types of ovarian cancer, read on to understand what the main symptoms are and how the disease is diagnosed.
8 symptoms that can be caused by the disease
The doctor explains that ovarian cancer “is usually silent, it takes time to show symptoms and, therefore, in most cases, the diagnosis is only made when the disease is already advanced”. The symptoms presented vary from case to case, but Dr. list some:
- Abdominal discomfort or pain;
- Swelling, accumulation of fluid in the abdomen;
- Feeling full even after a light meal;
- Heartburn, nausea and indigestion;
- Change in bowel function, with constipation or diarrhea;
- loss of appetite;
- Unintentional weight loss;
- Constant tiredness;
Whenever you have persistent symptoms, it is important to see a doctor. The faster a tumor is discovered, the easier it will be to treat.
How the diagnosis is made
According to the doctor, anyone who is suspected of having ovarian cancer should undergo an evaluation. Thus, the “physical gynecological examination and the imaging examination of the pelvis will be performed, which may be a transvaginal ultrasound with Doppler initially”.
In addition, “in some cases, a computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging is necessary for a better evaluation”. Still, “among the blood tests, CA-125 is a marker of ovarian tumor. However, this test should only be requested when there is a strong suspicion or confirmation of ovarian cancer, as it is not intended for screening. The definitive diagnosis involves a biopsy, for removal of tumor material, and evaluation by a pathologist”.
How is the treatment done?
There are several forms of treatment for ovarian cancer. In each case, it is necessary to analyze several factors, “such as the histological type of the tumor, the staging (extent of the disease), age and clinical conditions of the patient”, lists the doctor.
In the early stages, “treatment involves surgery, whether or not followed by chemotherapy.” In advanced stages, “whenever possible, surgery and chemotherapy are performed”.
Still according to the doctor, “there are some new treatments for ovarian cancer. These involve maintenance therapies with targeted therapies (PARP inhibitors, for example).”
How to prevent ovarian cancer
To prevent cancer, whether ovarian or other, a change of habit is necessary. Dr. Pirolli draws attention to the following forms of prevention:
- Attention to risk factors;
- Maintain a balanced diet;
- Regular physical activity;
- Healthy body weight;
- Conduct regular consultations, especially from the age of 50.
According to the doctor, there is still no scientific evidence proving that “screening for ovarian cancer brings more benefits than risks, so, so far, it is not recommended”. Pirolli also informs “that the preventive gynecological exam, the pap smear, does not detect ovarian cancer, it is specific to detect cancer of the cervix.
Some factors reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer, they are: “having already been pregnant, breastfeeding, using contraceptives for more than 5 years and having had a tubal ligation”. As for the factors that increase the risks, the oncologist explains that this cancer is more recurrent from 50 to 60 years of age.
Infertility is also a risk factor for ovarian cancer. However, the doctor explains that, based on studies carried out so far, ovulation induction, performed in the treatment of infertility, does not seem to increase the chances of developing the disease.
Family history also needs to be taken into account. “The chances increase when there are cases of ovarian cancer or breast cancer in the family, especially in first-degree relatives.” In such cases, it is important to have regular medical follow-up.
Other factors that need to be observed, according to the doctor, are: first menstruation before age 12, late menopause (after age 52), obesity and endometriosis.
Ovarian cancer vs ovarian cyst
The doctor explains that “cysts in the ovary are, by definition, benign changes and, therefore, do not turn into cancer”. Unlike tumors, cysts “are fluid-filled sacs that can form inside the ovary.”
During childbearing years, “small cysts develop on the ovary every month. This is normal and they usually go away without treatment.” However, they “may grow slowly and not go away, yet most cases have no symptoms and do not require any intervention.”
Removing the cyst, through surgery, may be indicated when it is “very bulky, causing some discomfort for the woman or is related to bleeding or torsion of the ovary”.
Finally, Pirolli informs that the formation of cysts is “a natural part of human physiology, there is no prevention”.
Ovarian cancer stages
The disease can be divided into four stages. According to the doctor, it is gradual and evolves in the following order:
Top questions about ovarian cancer
Who has ovarian cancer menstruates?
Rafaela Pirolli (RP): Depending on the type of ovarian cancer, it can interfere with the menstrual cycle, making it irregular, with more intense flow or with longer intervals. However, the most common cancer, which is epithelial, occurs more frequently in women over 50-60 years of age, who are already in menopause and vaginal bleeding is not a frequent symptom.
Can anyone who has had it develop again?
RP: As ovarian cancer is often diagnosed in more advanced stages, unfortunately, recurrence is common, that is, the return of the disease, even if the patient has had surgery and chemotherapy. The earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the greater the chance of a cure without a resurgence. However, even in early diseases, the woman must maintain regular medical follow-up, thus preventing the risk of the disease returning or of a new cancer in the other ovary (if it was possible to remove only one ovary, which happens in very initials).
Can anyone who has had it get pregnant?
RP: If the woman is of childbearing age, it is possible to discuss fertility preservation techniques with the medical team, such as freezing an egg or preserving one of the ovaries and uterus. However, this is only possible in very early diseases, which is more common in the germinal or sexual cord types. Remember that ovarian cancer is rare in young women.
Are there ovarian tumors that are benign?
RP: There may be benign tumors in the ovary, for example, mature teratomas and cystadenomas.
Is it possible to remove the ovaries to prevent cancer?
RP: In patients at very high risk of ovarian cancer, for example women with a mutation in the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, preventive ophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) may be discussed. This is a measure for very specific cases and not for the general population.
In any case, take your questions to the doctor’s office and don’t be shy about asking. In addition, talk to other women about the subject, as prevention is very important, as is the reception of those who are dealing with the disease.
Testimonials from people who have had ovarian cancer
Next, check out four videos of women who have had ovarian cancer. In addition to understanding their experience and fears, you will understand a little more about the manifestation of the disease.
In this video, Sabrina Neves tells how she won the battle against ovarian cancer. With her case, it is possible to see how difficult the diagnosis of the disease can be for doctors.
At first it was just colic. However, the pain didn’t go away and Caliandra didn’t know what she had. Watch the video to learn about another case that shows the difficulty in diagnosing ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer at age 26
As already seen, ovarian cancer is more common from the age of 50. However, it is not a rule. In this video, Fernanda Araújo, 26, shares her journey in the battle against the disease.
Ovarian cancer at age 19
Also Vânya, aged 19, had to face ovarian cancer. This story, as well as the previous one, demonstrates how important it is for all women to visit a gynecologist regularly and pay attention to the body’s signs, for example, cramping, bloating or any other changes.
Now you know the main information related to ovarian cancer, as it can be silent and difficult to identify. Take the opportunity to understand what ovulation pain indicates about women’s health.
The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only. They do not replace the advice and follow-up of doctors, nutritionists, psychologists, physical education professionals and other specialists.
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