Introduction to Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is a disease that affects the ovaries, which are small spherical organs vital for the female reproductive process. Normally, these organs would produce sex hormones and make egg cells, but in diseased ovaries these functions may become disrupted.

As with many types of cancer, if the signs and symptoms are ignored for too long, the disease can invade other areas of the body.

Like most cancers, ovarian cancer originates from one or a few mutated cells that multiply until eventually a tumour will form. This tumour can be cancerous or non-cancerous, with the latter normally referred to as benign.

Types of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is divided into three particular types, each with their own sub-divisions and rates of diagnosis. The first of these is ovarian cancer of the epithelium.

This type is the most commonly diagnosed, with 90% of ovarian cases falling into this category. Its name comes from the fact that this type of cancer manifests itself at first on the surface of the ovary, which is lined with epithelial cells. Listed below are the known types of ovarian cancer on the epithelium.

  • Clear cell
  • Serous
  • Mucinous
  • Endometrioid
  • Unclassified

Approximately two thirds of epithelial cases are known as serous, making it the most common of its type.

The other, less common, types of ovarian cancers are either unclassified or germ cell tumours. Unclassified or undifferentiated types make-up 10% of ovarian cancer diagnoses, and these are tumours that originate from cells in such an early stage of cell life that determining the type of cell is not possible.

Lastly, germ cell tumours account for as little as 1 to 2% of all ovarian cases. The tumour cells for this type originate from the cells that make the egg in the ovary.

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Symptoms of ovarian cancer include discomfort in the tummy area, gaining or losing weight, tiredness that can’t be explained, a feeling of being bloated and loss of appetite.

Whilst there are a number of indicators of ovarian cancer, a lot of them are not just specific to this disease. Consequently, symptoms may be passed off as something else, resulting in a delayed diagnosis.

Statistics Show the Risk Factors

Ovarian cancer may have many causes and risk factors, but progress in understanding these are still ongoing. Despite this, there are various statistics that point towards certain characteristics that predispose people to this type of cancer.

For young women, the chance of developing ovarian cancer is low, but the risks increase with age. Consequently, over 80% of this type of cancer is found in women over 50.

Various lifestyle choices may play a part in increasing the risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. These include obesity, smoking and consuming a high fat diet which is low in vegetables and fruit.

Finally, aside from lifestyle and age, a genetic predisposition may become a factor in developing ovarian cancer. Whilst this may be a risk, it is thought that only 1 in 10 cancers of this type originate from an inherited gene.