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Understanding Ovarian Cancer


You or someone you care about has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

This video will help you understand the disease and how it may affect you.

Women have two ovaries. They are on either side of the uterus.

The ovaries are the part of the reproductive system that makes and stores eggs.

Ovaries also make the hormones estrogen and progesterone. The two fallopian tubes are attached to the uterus.

After an egg is released from the ovary, it passes through one of the tubes to the uterus.

The ovaries lie close to the peritoneum.

The peritoneum is the inner lining of the abdomen that also covers most of the organs in your abdomen and pelvis.

Most ovarian cancers begin in the outer layer of the ovary.

This is called epithelial ovarian cancer. Cancer occurs when cells grow out of control.

Abnormal cells continue to divide and may spread to other parts of the body.

Germ cell tumors are another type of ovarian cancer. They start in the cells that make eggs.

Stromal tumors are a third type. They begin in the supporting tissue of the ovaries, where hormones are made.

A number of factors may raise your risk of epithelial ovarian cancer.

One risk factor is age. Half of ovarian cancers happen in women age sixty-three or older.

Obesity is another risk factor. Women with a body mass index of thirty or greater have a higher risk.

The risk is also higher for women who have their first baby after age thirty-five or who have never had a baby.

Taking hormone therapy with estrogen alone after menopause may raise your risk.

And, having a family history of ovarian and certain other cancers can also increase risk.

Ovarian cancer may have no early symptoms. Symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague.

When symptoms do appear, they may include: pain in the pelvis or abdomen, gas or bloating,

irregular menstrual bleeding, feeling that you always need to urinate, constipation, and back pain.

However, in most cases, these symptoms are caused by conditions that are not ovarian cancer.

If you have ovarian cancer, your doctor will need to determine the subtypes of ovarian carcinoma, the grade, and the stage or progression, of the disease to help plan your treatment.

Each grade is based on how different the cancer cells look compared to normal ovary cells under a microscope.

The higher the grade, the more aggressive the cancer is.

Each stage for ovarian cancer is based on how far cancer cells have spread from where they began.

Stage one means the cancer is only within the ovaries.

At stage two, the cancer has spread to other organs, but is still within the pelvis.

In stage three, cancer has spread beyond the pelvis to either the peritoneum, or the lymph nodes behind the peritoneum, or both.

Stage four means the cancer has spread to organs outside of the peritoneum.

As you deal with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, continue to talk to your doctor and your cancer care team.