Located in the pelvis on either side of the uterus, the ovaries are an important part of the female reproductive system—they produce both female hormones, namely estrogen and progesterone, and eggs. When a woman reaches menopause, her ovaries stop releasing eggs and producing certain hormones. When cells in the ovaries begin to grow out of control, they develop into ovarian cancer, which has the potential to spread to nearby tissues or throughout the body.
However, some ovarian cancers become benign tumors, which will not spread and are not life-threatening. Ovarian epithelial cancer is closely related to fallopian tube cancer and primary peritoneal cancer because they form in the same types of epithelial tissue, resulting in similar symptoms and treatments.
There are three main types of this cancer. Epithelial, germ cell, and stromal ovarian cancer each contain several subtypes differentiated by how the cells look under a microscope. Ovarian cysts are usually not cancerous but can have some similar symptoms.
Typically, providers begin to suspect ovarian cancer after feeling a mass during a pelvic examination. There are several risk factors for ovarian cancer, including age, family history, having children later in life or not having children, using fertility treatments, postmenopausal hormone therapy, smoking, and using alcohol. Still, no one knows why one woman gets this cancer and another does not. Specific genetic mutations indicate an increased risk, and are tested for if the family history warrants it. One well-known gene mutation is either on the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, known as breast and ovarian cancer syndrome.
Some tests are performed by primary care providers or OB/GYNs as part of routine screenings, while others are done after receiving abnormal results to learn more.
Staging is a measurement system based on the size of the tumor and how far it has spread in the body. Using the TNM system, all of the information from tests and examinations is then combined and assessed to determine the stage, from I (one) to IV (four). Generally, the higher the stage, the more serious the cancer.
(Tumor – node – metastasis system)
If left untreated, these cells will likely become invasive ovarian cancer. This stage is also called carcinoma in situ.
Cancer cells have formed and can be found in one or both of the ovaries or fallopian tubes.
Cancer cells have spread from the ovaries to the uterus and/or other pelvic organs.
Cancer has spread to the peritoneum (lining of the abdomen and organs within) and/or nearby lymph nodes.
Cancer has spread to the liver, spleen, intestines, or other organs or lymph nodes in the body.
The grade of an illness refers to how the cancer cells look when compared to normal cells. The lower the number, the more cancer cells look like the normal cells. This means the cancer is less likely to spread and may be easier to treat. Grade 3 looks very different from normal cells and is likely to grow and spread faster.
Treatment usually involves surgery to remove cancerous cells. Surgery can also help the care team determine the severity and spread of the cancer.