What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer develops when abnormal cells in the ovaries start to grow and divide, eventually growing into a tumour. Your ovaries are a pair of glands that produce eggs and hormones in women.
If ovarian cancer isn't treated, cancer cells can gradually grow into the surrounding tissues and may spread to other areas of the body.
However, ovarian cancer can be treated successfully, especially if diagnosed early.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer can seem minor and may go unnoticed, particularly in the early stages of the disease.
The most common symptoms to look out for include:
- Feeling bloated continuously
- Needing to pee more often
- Pain or discomfort in your tummy or pelvic area
- Often feeling full, or losing your appetite
Other slightly less common symptoms include:
- Changes in your bowel movement
- Developing irritable bowel syndrome symptoms suddenly, particularly after the age of 50
- Unexplained weight loss
- Feeling more tired than usual
Ovarian cancer is more likely to affect women who have been through the menopause and tends to affect women over the age of 50. In rare cases, it can also affect younger women.
Other factors that can increase your risk of ovarian cancer:
- Family history of ovarian or breast cancer
- Using hormone replaced therapy (HRT) – although any increase in cancer is likely to be very small
- Endometritis – a condition where the tissue surrounding the lining of the womb is found outside the womb
- Being overweight or obese
- Smoking tobacco
- Exposure to asbestos
Diagnostic tests for ovarian cancer
At Cromwell Hospital, we offer the following diagnostic options as part of our gynaecology clinic:
- Blood tests – To check any abnormalities in your cells that could lead to an ovarian cancer diagnosis.
- CT scan or ultrasound - These scans can detect the presence of cancer and see if it’s spread to other organs. This can help your doctors decide on the most effective treatment for you.
- Laparoscopy – This is a small operation to look inside your tummy to find out if the cancer has spread. Your surgeon puts a thin tube with a light and a camera (laparoscope) through a small cut in your abdomen to check your ovaries and the surrounding area. They can also take tissue samples.
- Laparotomy - This is an operation to look inside your abdomen and pelvis to investigate if the cancer has spread. The surgeon will make a large cut down the middle of your abdomen to look inside your abdomen and pelvis and take samples of the tissue.
Targeted therapies are a group of medicines that change the way cells behave and help to stop the cancer from growing and spreading. The medicines may only be suitable for some types of ovarian cancer and can be given if cancer comes back after a course of chemotherapy.
The two most commonly prescribed targeted therapies used in the treatment of ovarian cancer are:
- Olaparib (Lynparza)
- Niraparib (Zejula)