Ovarian epithelial cancer is a malignant cancer that grows on the surface of a woman's ovaries. Some women are at greater risk than others for ovarian epithelial cancer, particularly women with a relative who has had ovarian cancer or women who have a genetic mutation. Ovarian epithelial cancer occurs in four stages. During the first stage, a cancer is on either one or both ovaries. In the fourth stage, the cancer has spread throughout the body.
A woman who has a mother, sister, or daughter with ovarian cancer is at high risk for getting cancer herself. Her risk increases if another, more distant relative, such as her aunt or grandmother, also had cancer. Up to 10 percent of women who will get ovarian epithelial cancer have a gene mutation that they inherited from one or both parents. In those cases, ovarian cancer may be prevented by removing the ovaries before any signs of cancer occur.
Signs of ovarian epithelial cancer include pain in the abdominal and pelvic areas as well as bloating and gas. Typically, the signs do not appear until the cancer has advanced. A woman who suspects that her pain and digestive issues are a result of cancer should see her doctor immediately for tests. The doctor can perform imaging such as an ultrasound or CAT scan to determine if cancer is present.
Left untreated or undiagnosed, ovarian cancer can spread throughout the body. A stage 1 cancer is on the ovary, and a later stage 1 cancer has broken open. During stage II, the cancer has spread to other organs in the reproductive system, such as the uterus and fallopian tubes. In stage III, the cancer begins to spread to the abdominal area, including the liver. Once it reaches stage IV, the cancer has spread throughout the body, including to the bone and lungs.
Early treatment improves a woman's odds of recovering from ovarian epithelial cancer, though some women do experience recurrent cancers. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Some patients may have the option of signing up for clinical trials for more experimental treatments.
Surgery may remove a single ovary and fallopian tube or both ovaries and fallopian tubes. Some women may need a complete hysterectomy plus salpingo-oophorectomy, meaning the uterus, cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes are taken out. Patients who undergo radiation therapy receive high doses of X-rays to kill the cancer cells, while chemotherapy involves taking potent drugs to kill the cancer cells.