When I was asked to write this article, I found it a little daunting and had to question whether being a man would allow me to comment. I hope that I can justify the faith put in me to continue. Since researching I have found that this form of cancer is more complicated and affects a wider area of the female body than its title assumes. Firstly, I felt that I had to explain to both a male and female audience and go into more detail as most men would probably have never given more than a cursory understanding if their partner developed symptoms.
- Belly pain
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms such as always feeling like you have to go.
If you have these symptoms more than 12 times a month, see your doctor so the problem can be found and treated if necessary.
- Extreme exhaustion
- Stomach upsets
- Back pain
- Pain during sex
- Changes in a period, heavier, or irregular bleeding
- Swollen belly with weight loss
What are the ovaries?
The Ovaries produce oestrogen and progesterone, the 2 female hormones.
There is one ovary either side of the uterus.
The ovaries produce eggs for reproduction and those eggs, when fertilized, travel through the fallopian tubes to settle in the uterus and develop into a foetus.
PIC courtesy of https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/about/what-is-ovarian-cancer.html
The Ovaries are made up of 3 types of cells and each can grow another type of tumour.
Types of Tumour:
Epithelial tumours: The most common, grow from the outer surface of the whole ovary.
Germ Cell Tumours: These grow from the actual eggs or Ova.
Stromal Tumours: These start from the structure of the hormone producing cells.
Some tumours are benign, some at low risk of spreading, but some malignant tumours can spread to other parts of the body and be fatal.
Other Similar Cancers:
There are other cancers that are closely related to the main 3 mentioned above dependant on which part of the Ovaries they attach to:-
Primary Peritoneal Carcinoma (PPC) It appears like an epithelial ovarian cancer, but it spreads through the abdomen, it seems to start in the cells lining the inside of the fallopian tubes. It tends to spread along the surfaces of the pelvis and abdomen. This type of cancer is of more concern for women who have had their ovaries removed to prevent ovarian cancer and can rarely occur in men.
Fallopian Tube Cancer Similar symptoms to PPC, but the outlook (prognosis) is slightly better.
Ovarian Germ Cell Tumours These mostly form the ova or eggs in females and the sperm in males. Most are benign, but less than 2% of ovarian cancers are germ cell tumours. Overall, they have a good outlook, with more than 9 out of 10 patients surviving at least 5 years after diagnosis.
Teratoma This is a germ cell tumour which has a benign form called mature teratoma and a cancerous form called immature teratoma. The mature often take the form of a cyst that can be removed surgically. The immature are cancerous and thankfully, rare and ,mostly occur in girls under 18.
Dysgerminoma Thankfully rare, but the most common ovarian germ cell cancer. Mostly affects women in their teens and twenties. It is considered malignant but doesn’t grow or spread rapidly. When limited to the ovary, more than 75% of patients are cured by removing the ovary. If the tumour has spread or returns later, surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy are effective in controlling or curing the disease in about 90% of patients.
Endodermal Sinus Tumour (Yolk Sac Tumour) and Choriocarcinoma These are rare tumours that mostly affect girls and young women. They tend to grow and spread rapidly but are usually very sensitive to chemotherapy.
Ovarian Stromal Tumours About 1% of ovarian cancers are Stromal Cell Tumours. Over half are found in women older than 50, with about 5% only occurring in young girls.
Ovarian Cysts These are a collection of fluid inside an ovary, and often go away without treatment. An ovarian cyst can be more concerning in a female who isn’t ovulating. It is good to let a Doctor monitor these just to ensure that they do not require surgical removal.
Because of the effects treatment can have on future reproductive intentions it is important to discuss all the various options with your medical team.
The treatment for ovarian cancer therefore depends on how far it has spread, how healthy you are at the time and if you are able to have children.
Most treatments are a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.
The aim of treatment is to cure the cancer. If the tumour is too advanced, treatment aims to relieve symptoms and control the cancer for as long as possible.
Surgery is the main treatment for ovarian cancer. To remove all of the cancer, or as much of it as possible. Surgery usually involves removing:
- both ovaries and the fallopian tubes
- the womb in a hysterectomy operation
- a layer of fatty tissue in the tummy
If the cancer is just in 1 or both ovaries, you may only need to have the ovary or ovaries removed, leaving your womb intact. This means you may still be able to have children. This is in fact what happened to my own wife at age 31 years, and she is now 66 and very fit.
Chemotherapy uses medicine to kill the cancer cells and most have this treatment in addition to surgery.
It is mostly given as a drip into a vein or in tablet form during a day visit to hospital. Usually, it will entail about 6 visits over a period of 3 weeks.
Chemotherapy often has some unpleasant side effects which are controlled by medicine, but which subside once the treatment is concluded.
Although an option it is not often used to treat ovarian cancers.
It can be used after surgery to kill off any cancer cells that might be left behind, or to shrink other tumours that have spread to other areas of the body.
It does have side effects such as hair loss, soreness, and tiredness but these pass after treatment.