The ovaries are two small oval-shaped organs that sit in the pelvis; they’re part of the women’s reproductive system. Each month the ovaries produce one egg in the middle of the menstrual cycle ready for fertilisation. The ovaries also produce two female sex hormones which are oestrogen and progesterone; they also produce a small amount of testosterone.
As a woman gets older they produce fewer hormones and eventually go into menopause (Usually over the age of 50). After menopause, the ovaries usually shrink and the amount of hormone produced decreases. Hormones help in keeping the immune system healthy and protect the heart, maintain a healthy brain and bones.
Ovarian cancer is the 5th most common cancer in women, affecting over 7,000 women per year in the UK. Ovarian cancer starts in the ovaries in early stages and can spread to other areas such as the abdomen, pelvis and other areas of the female reproductive system.
Although the exact causes of ovarian cancer are still unknown, factors that can put you at higher risk of developing the disease are:
Family History: Having close relatives such as a sister, mother or a daughter who’ve suffered from ovarian cancer puts you at higher risk.
Age: With most cancers, the risk of developing it increases with age. Ovarian cancer is more commonly diagnosed in women over the age of 50.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): HRT can increase the risk of ovarian cancer, although only 1% of ovarian cancer diagnoses show a HRT link as a cause.
Endometriosis: This is a condition where the lining of the womb grows elsewhere in the body. The endometrial continues to grow as if it was in the womb and gets trapped, leading to pain, swelling and bleeding. Women with endometriosis have a high risk of developing ovarian cancer to women who do not have it.
Ovulation: When the ovaries release an egg, the surface of the ovary breaks and will repair itself. Over time this can lead to abnormal cell growth, preventions like the contraceptive pill can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
Inherited Genes: Certain genes such as BRAC1 and BRAC 2 can lead to ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
Fertility treatment/ infertility: Some drugs used to help fertility can increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
Contraceptive: Whereas some contraceptive can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, the coil (IUD- intrauterine device) can increase the risk. This is with long use as short-term use can reduce the risk.
Other Factors: Being Over-weight, height (being taller), smoking can also increase the risk.
Signs and Symptoms
Not all women experience symptoms in early stages of the disease and symptoms can be hard to spot. The symptoms linked below could be due to other conditions, however, if you have more than one symptoms, please visit your doctor.
The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are:
- – Bloating that is persistent (swollen tummy)
- – Abdominal pain and persistent pelvic pain
- – Feeling full quickly
- – Nausea
- – Loss of appetite
- – Needing to pass urine more often
- – Urinary urgency
- – Changes in bowel habits
- – Pain during sex
- – Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- – Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
- – Back Pain
Ovarian cancer is uncommon in women under the age of 40, however, if you’re concerned about the symptoms, be sure to visit the GP.
(NICE) The national institute for health and Excellence has produced guidelines that recommend testing for CA125 (produced in ovarian cells). It’s a simple blood test that may indicate whether or not or have ovarian cancer, although the levels detected in the blood can be a result of another condition.
Read the full guidelines at: http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg122/resources/guidance-ovarian-cancer-pdf