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September 20, 2022

Understanding Symptoms, Risk Factors and Treatment for Ovarian/Fallopian Tube/Peritoneal Cancer

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is a good time to familiarize yourself with some of the risk factors, signs and symptoms, and kinds of treatment of ovarian cancer. Here is helpful information from Women’s Health at Saint Anne’s Hospital, in collaboration with Women & Infants Hospital.

What Is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer is a form of cancer that starts in the ovary or fallopian tube or peritoneal lining.

The most common forms of ovarian cancer are cancers that start from:

  • cells that cover the outside of the ovary or fallopian tube or peritoneum (epithelial cancers).
  • ovarian cells that make the eggs (germ cell cancers).
  • cells that hold the ovary together and make female hormones (stromal cancers).

What Are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?

Many times, the symptoms of ovarian cancer are not obvious. However, some of the most common are:

  • vaginal bleeding (particularly if you are past menopause), or discharge from your vagina that is not normal for you.
  • pain or pressure in the pelvic area.
  • abdominal or back pain.
  • bloating.
  • feeling full too quickly, or difficulty eating.
  • a change in your bathroom habits, such as more frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation or diarrhea.

What Are Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer affects one of 70 women in the United States. However, you may be at higher risk if you have:

  • close family members (such as your mother, sister, aunt, or grandmother) on either your mother’s or your father’s side, who have had ovarian cancer.
  • a genetic mutation that increases your risk of ovarian cancer.  The most common mutations are called BRCA1 or BRCA2, or one associated with Lynch syndrome.
  • an Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish background.
  • endometriosis (a condition where tissue from the lining of the uterus grows elsewhere in the body).

Is There a Test Available to Check for Ovarian Cancer?

Unlike many other cancers, such as mammography for breast cancer, there is no screening test to check for ovarian cancer.

However, if you experience signs or symptoms, your doctor may request a diagnostic test that may help identify the presence of cancer. These may include a pelvic exam of your vagina and rectum; transvaginal ultrasound; and a blood test called the CA-125 test that helps identify the presence of certain proteins that can be found on ovarian cancer cells.

What Is the Treatment for Ovarian Cancer?

The type of ovarian cancer determines the best course of treatment.

In most cases, surgery and chemotherapy are the preferred treatment. For some women, surgery is the first step followed by chemotherapy. For other women, it is better to start with chemotherapy and have surgery later. Your doctor will help determine which order is the best for you.

The extent of surgery will depend on how the cancer has spread, with the goal of removing all of the affected tissue. Chemotherapy consists of two or more drugs to kill or shrink tumors. In some cases, targeted therapies may help to find and attack cancer cells, too.

Radiation therapy is rarely used as a main treatment for ovarian cancer.

What You Can Do

Pay attention to your body. Be aware of changes that are unusual or painful and talk to your doctor. Be sure to discuss all of your signs and symptoms and ask lots of questions. Ask for a referral to a gynecologic oncologist – a cancer specialist who specializes in women’s cancers. Earlier diagnosis and care by a gynecologic oncologist can lead to better outcomes.

About Women’s Health at Saint Anne’s Hospital

Saint Anne’s Hospital offers women’s health in collaboration with Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, RI, the leading dedicated women’s hospital in our region. Together, we bring enhanced care to the Fall River community for:

  • gynecologic oncology
  • benign breast disease
  • breast cancer
  • breast surgery
  • oncoplastic and reconstructive expertise for breast
  • access to national research trials for gynecology and breast

To learn more, visit Women’s Health at Saint Anne's Hospital, in collaboration with Women & Infants Hospital.

Sources:

The American Cancer Society: If You Have Ovarian Cancer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: What You Need to Know About Ovarian Cancer