Breaking Down the Basics: Understanding Ovarian Cancer


Ovarian cancer is a complex and often misunderstood disease that affects thousands of women worldwide each year. In this article, Dr Scott Kamelle will delve into the basics of ovarian cancer, including its causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. Understanding these fundamental aspects of ovarian cancer is crucial for early detection, effective management, and improved outcomes for those affected by this condition.

Understanding Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer originates in the ovaries, which are part of the female reproductive system. The ovaries produce eggs and hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. When cells in the ovaries undergo abnormal changes and multiply uncontrollably, they can form tumors, which may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Malignant tumors have the potential to spread to other parts of the body, making early detection and treatment essential.

One of the challenges in diagnosing ovarian cancer is that it often does not cause noticeable symptoms in the early stages. As the disease progresses, symptoms may include abdominal bloating, pelvic pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, frequent urination, and changes in bowel habits. However, these symptoms are nonspecific and can be attributed to other conditions, which can delay diagnosis.

Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer

Several factors may increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer. These include age, with the majority of cases occurring in women over 50. A family history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer may also elevate risk, as certain genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, are associated with an increased likelihood of developing ovarian cancer. Additionally, women who have never been pregnant, have had hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopause, or have a history of endometriosis may face higher risks.

Understanding these risk factors can help individuals and healthcare providers identify those who may benefit from closer monitoring or preventive measures, such as genetic testing or prophylactic surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes in high-risk individuals.

Diagnosis and Screening

Diagnosing ovarian cancer typically involves a combination of medical history review, physical examination, imaging tests (such as ultrasound or CT scans), and blood tests to assess levels of certain tumor markers, such as CA-125. However, no single screening test is highly effective in detecting ovarian cancer in its early stages, which contributes to the challenges of timely diagnosis.

For women at average risk of ovarian cancer, routine screening is not recommended. However, for those at higher risk due to family history or genetic predisposition, screening may involve more frequent pelvic exams, transvaginal ultrasound, and CA-125 testing. It’s important for individuals to discuss their risk factors and screening options with their healthcare providers to determine the most appropriate approach for early detection.

Treatment Options

The treatment for ovarian cancer depends on various factors, including the stage of the disease, the type of ovarian cancer, and the individual’s overall health and preferences. Surgery is typically the primary treatment for ovarian cancer and may involve removing one or both ovaries, fallopian tubes, the uterus, nearby lymph nodes, and any visible tumors in the abdominal cavity.

Following surgery, patients may undergo chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence. Chemotherapy drugs may be administered intravenously or directly into the abdominal cavity, depending on the specific situation. In some cases, targeted therapy or hormone therapy may also be recommended to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.


Ovarian cancer is a complex disease with various risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options. By understanding the basics of ovarian cancer, individuals can take proactive steps to reduce their risk, recognize potential symptoms, and seek prompt medical attention if necessary. Additionally, ongoing research into early detection methods and innovative treatments offers hope for improved outcomes and quality of life for those affected by ovarian cancer.