October 7, 2022 - Parul Saini, Webmedy Team
Updated Version - July 12, 2023
Ovarian cancer occurs when cells in the ovaries begin to multiply out of control and form tumors. If left untreated, the tumor can spread to other parts of the body. This is called metastatic ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer often has warning signs, but early symptoms are vague and easily missed.
The female reproductive system contains two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries are the size of an almond. They produce eggs (ova) as well as the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
In this article, we will walk you through all about ovarian cancer, its symptoms, types, risks, and treatment options.
Ovarian Cancer Early Symptoms
- Abdominal bloating or swelling
- Quickly feeling full when eating
- Weight loss
- Discomfort in the pelvic area
- Back pain
- Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
- A frequent need to urinate
- Difficulty breathing
Severe Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
If cancer has reached a later stage without intervention, some individuals may develop the following symptoms:
- Fluid buildup around the lungs (pleural effusion)
- Fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)
- Obstruction or blockage of the digestive tract (bowel obstruction)
If you are dealing with pleural effusion, you may experience shortness of breath, a cough, and/or chest pain.
Types of Ovarian Cancer
The ovaries are made up of three types of cells. Each cell can develop into a different type of tumor:
Epithelial Ovarian Carcinomas
Epithelial Ovarian Carcinomas form in the layer of tissue on the outside of the ovaries. About 85 to 90 percent of malignant ovarian cancers are epithelial ovarian tumors.
Stromal tumors grow in the hormone-producing cells. Seven percent of ovarian cancers are stromal tumors.
Germ cell tumors
Germ cell tumors develop in egg-producing cells. Germ cell tumors are rare.
Risk Factors of Ovarian Cancer
The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown. However, these factors can increase your risk:
- A family history of ovarian cancer
- Genetic mutations of genes associated with ovary, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2
- A personal history of breast, uterine, or colon cancer
- The use of certain fertility drugs or hormone therapies
- No history of pregnancy
- Older age is another risk factor. Most cases of ovarian cancer develop after menopause
It's possible to have ovarian cancer without having any of these risk factors. Likewise, having any of these risk factors doesn't necessarily mean you'll develop ovarian cancer.
How is Ovarian Cancer Treated?
The treatment depends on how far cancer has spread. A team of doctors will determine a treatment plan depending on your situation. It will most likely include one or more of the following:
- Surgery to remove the tumor
- Targeted therapy
- Hormone therapy
What is an ovarian cyst?
An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that forms on or inside an ovary. They are common and often form during ovulation. Most ovarian cysts present little or no discomfort and are harmless.
What are the early symptoms of an ovarian cyst?
The early symptoms of an ovarian cyst can include bloating, abdominal swelling, pain in the lower abdomen, and a feeling of fullness or heaviness in the abdomen. However, many cysts don't cause any symptoms at all.
Can ovarian cysts occur without any symptoms?
Yes, many ovarian cysts don't cause any symptoms. They are often discovered during routine pelvic exams or ultrasounds for other health issues.
How do I know if I have an ovarian cyst?
If you're experiencing symptoms, such as persistent pelvic pain, bloating, or irregular periods, consult your healthcare provider. They can confirm the presence of an ovarian cyst through an ultrasound or other imaging tests.
Is pain always a symptom of an ovarian cyst?
No, pain isn't always a symptom of an ovarian cyst. Many ovarian cysts don't cause any discomfort. However, if a cyst becomes large, it can lead to pelvic pain, bloating, or a feeling of heaviness.
Can ovarian cysts affect menstrual cycles?
Yes, some types of ovarian cysts, such as functional cysts, can cause irregular or painful periods. However, many ovarian cysts do not affect menstrual cycles.
What does the pain feel like when you have an ovarian cyst?
Pain from an ovarian cyst can be dull or sharp, and it usually occurs on the side of the ovary that has the cyst. The pain may be constant, or it may come and go.
Can ovarian cysts cause bloating or changes in weight?
Yes, ovarian cysts can cause bloating and a feeling of fullness in the abdomen. However, they are unlikely to cause significant weight changes.
What symptoms would indicate an ovarian cyst has ruptured?
Symptoms of a ruptured ovarian cyst can include sudden, sharp, severe pain on one side of the lower abdomen, nausea, vomiting, fever, and rapid breathing. If you experience these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
Can ovarian cysts cause urinary or bowel symptoms?
Yes, large ovarian cysts can press on the bladder or bowel, leading to symptoms like increased frequency of urination, difficulty emptying the bladder or bowel completely, or constipation.
Are there any symptoms of ovarian cysts that are commonly mistaken for other conditions?
Symptoms of ovarian cysts such as bloating, abdominal pain, and changes in menstrual cycles can mimic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), endometriosis, or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
How does the size of the ovarian cyst influence the symptoms?
Larger cysts are more likely to cause symptoms than smaller ones. They can cause pressure, bloating, swelling, and pain in the abdomen. However, the size of a cyst does not always correlate with the severity of the symptoms.
How do the symptoms of a functional cyst differ from those of a pathological cyst?
Functional cysts, which are related to the menstrual cycle, often don't cause symptoms and typically resolve on their own. Pathological cysts, which can be benign or malignant, may grow larger and cause symptoms, but this is not always the case.
Can ovarian cysts cause infertility?
Most ovarian cysts do not affect fertility. However, certain types, such as endometriomas associated with endometriosis, or cysts caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can affect fertility.
Is there a connection between ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer?
Most ovarian cysts are benign and not associated with cancer. However, a small percentage of ovarian cysts can be malignant. It's important to have regular check-ups and discuss any symptoms with your healthcare provider.
How are ovarian cysts diagnosed?
Ovarian cysts are typically diagnosed through pelvic exams and imaging tests, such as ultrasounds. In some cases, blood tests may be used to evaluate the risk of ovarian cancer.
Are there ways to prevent the formation of ovarian cysts?
There's no sure way to prevent ovarian cysts, but regular pelvic exams can help ensure that changes in your ovaries are diagnosed as early as possible. Hormonal contraceptives can help prevent the development of new cysts.
What treatment options are available for ovarian cysts?
Treatment depends on the size and type of the cyst, as well as the patient's symptoms and age. Options range from monitoring the cyst to medications, or in some cases, surgery to remove the cyst.
Can diet or lifestyle influence the risk of developing ovarian cysts?
While there's no specific lifestyle or diet to prevent cysts, maintaining a healthy weight and balanced diet can contribute to overall health, which might reduce the risk of developing ovarian cysts.
Can hormonal birth control help with ovarian cysts?
Yes, hormonal birth control pills can help prevent the formation of new ovarian cysts. They work by preventing ovulation, which reduces the risk of developing new functional ovarian cysts.