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Ovaries are the female reproductive organs situated on either side of the Uterus. Ovarian Cancer, as the name suggests, starts in the Ovaries.
It is the fifth most common form of Cancer and causes more deaths than any other form of female reproductive Cancer.
Mostly found in women aged 40 to 70 years, Ovarian Cancer usually arises from the Epithelium or Lining Cells of the Ovary. Ovarian Cancer seldom reveals significant symptoms at early stages, and hence it goes undetected until the Cancer has spread within the Pelvis and Abdomen. Ovarian Cancer detected at last stage is difficult to treat and may prove fatal.
The precise cause of Ovarian Cancer is still unknown. However, certain factors that may induce occurrence of the disorder are as follows:
- Older Women who have not given birth
- Family History of Ovarian Cancer, Breast Cancer, or Colorectal Cancer
- Carriers of BRCA1 and BRCA2 Mutations
- Use of Postmenopausal Estrogen Replacement Therapy
Signs & Symptoms
The symptoms of Ovarian Cancer may include the following:
- Pain in Abdomen or Pelvis
- Frequent Bloating
- Urinary Problems
- Menstrual Disorders
- Difficulty in Eating
- Abdominal Vaginal Bleeding
- Abdominal Mass
- Involuntary Weight Loss
- Back Pain
For treatment of Ovarian Cancer, one should consult a Gynaecologic Oncologist.
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The doctor shall conduct the following examinations to diagnose Ovarian Cancer:
History: Since Ovarian Cancer is hereditary, hence the doctor shall require pertinent information about the patient’s medical family history.
Physical Examination: The doctor shall conduct a Pelvic Examination to look for an Ovarian Lump, and a Rectovaginal Examination to feel the Pelvic Organs. Physical examination may also reveal presence of Fluid in Abdominal Cavity (Ascites).
Tests: These include Blood Tests and Biopsies to detect Cancer Cells in Abdominal Fluid. The doctor shall advice for conducting Imaging Tests, such as, Pelvic and Trans-vaginal Ultrasound, Pelvic or Abdominal CT Scan/MRI, and Pap Test to check presence of Ovarian Lump and spread of Cancer.
Treatment Modalities Available for Management of the Disorder
The treatment modalities available for management of Ovarian Cancer include Surgery, Chemotherapy, and Radiation Therapy. The choice of treatment depends on various factors, such as, Type of Cancer, Stage of Cancer, Age & Health of the patient, and the patient’s desire to preserve her Fertility.
Surgery: Surgery suffices for Borderline Tumors & Malignant Tumors which are well differentiated and confined to the Ovary. There are different categories of Surgeries and the choice of Surgery depends on the extent, type, and grade of Cancer. The options available include Total Hysterectomy (Removal of Uterus & Cervix), Salpingectomy (Removal of Fallopian Tubes) Unilateral Salpingo-Oophorectomy (Removal of one Ovary and one Fallopian Tube), and Bilateral Salpingo-Oophorectomy (Removal of both Ovaries and Fallopian Tubes).For aggressive tumours, the doctor may recommend a treatment combining Surgery and Chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy: This treatment involves use of drugs to kill Cancer Cells, either post Surgery or before Surgery. It helps in shrinkage of Cancer Cells and induces slow Cancer growth.
Radiation Therapy:This involves use of High Dose X-Rays or High-Energy Rays to destroy Cancer Cells. In case of advanced stage of Ovarian Cancer, Radiation Therapy may prove ineffective.
Like other forms of Cancer, Ovarian Cancer also imposes a threat of spreading of Cancer to other organs. Apart from the Ovary, Cancer Cells may implant on other organs, such as, Uterus, Bowel, Urinary Bladder, Lining of the Bowel Wall, and at times, Lungs.
Other complications include Loss of Organ Function and Fluid in Abdomen. If the patient has undergone Surgery which entailed removing the Ovaries, then the patient will no longer be able to bear children. Other complications arising out of Surgery may include Urinating problems, Constipation, Diarrhoea, Menopause, and declined ability to engage in sexual intercourse.
Side effects of Chemotherapy may include Nausea, Vomiting, Loss of Appetite, Fatigue, and Hair Loss. Radiation Therapy may induce Nausea, Vomiting, Bladder Inflammation, Diarrhoea, and Urinating Problems.
After the completion of Surgery and/or Chemotherapy, the patient should undergo tests and medication prescribed by the doctor. In certain cases, there are chances of recurrence of Ovarian Cancer. Hence, the patient should undertake preventive measures and consult the doctor in case of any emergency. The most distressing side effects of the treatment are Nausea and Vomiting. To avoid further complications, the patient may take Anti-Nausea Drugs prescribed by the healthcare team.
Dietary and Physical Activity Requirements
The most significant side effects of treatment of Ovarian Cancer are Nausea and Vomiting. The patient may also experience a Loss of Appetite. However, it is imperative for the patient to eat healthy food and maintain strength in her body to cope up with the treatment. One should follow the below mentioned dietary regimen:
- Eat high-protein and high calorie food
- Drink plenty of fluid, such as, energy drinks and milk shakes
- Try to take meals more frequently throughout the day instead of three large meals
- Eat when one can
Prevention of the Disorder from Happening or Recurring
There are no established ways to truly prevent Ovarian Cancer from occurring. However, one can significantly reduce the risk. A woman taking birth control pills for more than 10 years is at a reduced risk of Ovarian Cancer. Tubal Ligation also aids in reducing the risk of the disorder. In case of Genetic Abnormalities, such as, BRCA Mutation, the patient should consider removal of Tubes and Ovaries to prevent Ovarian Cancer.
Risk to other Family Members
Ovarian Cancer is a Hereditary Disease and hence imposes increased risk of occurrence to the first-degree and second-degree relatives.
Support and Help given by the Caregiver
Patients suffering from Ovarian Cancer experience emotional turmoil. One of the greatest fears of any patient is her ability to bear children. In such circumstances, it is imperative for caregivers to offer emotional and moral support to the patient. The patient may also experience certain side effects of Surgery and/or Chemotherapy, such as, Nausea, Vomiting etc. Caregivers should take care of the dietary requirements of the patient.