Q. What is ovarian cancer?
A. Ovarian cancer is a serious disease in which some cells in your ovaries become abnormal (unhealthy), multiply out of control, and can damage healthy parts of your body. Women have the best chance of getting better when the disease is found early.
Q. What are ovaries?
A. Ovaries are part of your reproductive system. They are in your pelvis, one on each side of your uterus. Each ovary is about the size of an almond. The ovaries make eggs and the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Each month during your menstrual cycle, an egg is released from one ovary and goes down a fallopian tube to the uterus. This is called ovulation. Women who have gone through menopause, the change of life, no longer release an egg from an ovary each month or make as many female hormones.
Q. What causes ovarian cancer?
A. Doctors do not know what causes ovarian cancer. They do know that women over 50 have ovarian cancer more than women under 50 and that Caucasian women tend to have ovarian cancer more often than other groups of women.
Women who have a mother, sister, or daughter with ovarian cancer and women who have had breast cancer have more chance of getting ovarian cancer. Also, being exposed to asbestos can increase a woman’s chance of getting ovarian cancer.
Women who have been pregnant, women who have breast-fed their babies, and women who take birth control pills for more than five years may have less chance of getting ovarian cancer.
Q. What are the signs of ovarian cancer?
A. Often, there are no clear signs of ovarian cancer. Here are some of the possible signs of ovarian cancer:
- stomach swelling or bloating, or stomach discomfort
- loss of appetite
- not feeling well
- going to the bathroom a lot
- losing or gaining weight without trying
Doctors say it is hard to know if these signs mean that a woman has ovarian cancer or some other problem.
Q. What are the treatments for ovarian cancer?
A. The first step is to have surgery so that doctors can know if a woman really has ovarian cancer. Other treatments you get will depend on the size, kind, and location of the cancer; your age; and your health. Doctors may use more than one treatment. Here is a list of treatments.
- Surgery – finding and taking out the cancer in an operation.
- Radiation therapy – using high-dose x-rays to kill cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy – using medicine to kill cancer cells.
- Biological therapy – using the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
Q. Does ovarian cancer run in families?
A. Most ovarian cancers do not run in families. However, about 5% to 10% of ovarian cancers do run in families. This means that if your mother, sister, or daughter has ovarian cancer, you have more chance of getting ovarian cancer. Sometimes ovarian, breast, and other cancers seem to run in families. Talk to your doctor about tests that can tell you more about your chances of getting ovarian cancer.
Q. What can I do to keep from getting ovarian cancer?
A. Doctors do not know of any ways for women to keep from getting ovarian cancer. There is no easy test to check for ovarian cancer like a mammogram checks for breast cancer or a pap smear checks for cervical cancer. Doctors are working on better ways to find ovarian cancer early.
Q. Can I still get ovarian cancer if I have my ovaries taken out?
A. Yes. Having your ovaries taken out is a very serious step. Talk to your doctor about your family history of ovarian cancer and your choices before you make a decision.