Ovarian cancer is malignancy of the ovaries and is often epithelial in origin(1). It is the second most common gynecological cancer. Risk factors include advancing age with a peak incidence between the ages of 40-70 years, giving fewer births or none at all, family or previous personal history of breast or pelvic cancers, family history of ovarian cancer, infertility, early menopause, and exposure to talc or asbestos(2). Lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, and poor diet also contribute to the risks of developing ovarian cancer(1). This type of malignancy has a higher fatality rate due to the tendency for late diagnosis(3).
Although ovarian cancer is known as a “silent” disease, there are still many signs and symptoms that can be caught early for optimum treatment(2,3). Symptoms include: persistent pelvic or abdominal pain, increased abdominal size or bloating that does not alleviate, difficulty eating, bowel and bladder changes, and fatigue(1). There can also be symptoms such as feeling full quickly when eating, unexplained weight loss, vaginal bleeding, and back pain. In rare occasions, upper limb manifestations will appear before the tumor is evident to the physician such as carpal tunnel syndrome, palmar fasciitis, and contractures in the hand or stiffness of the joints(2). These symptoms are often reported up to 20-30 times per month(3).
Diagnosis includes taking a full medical history, utilizing pelvic examinations to check for a mass or swelling around the ovary. Pelvic or trans-vaginal ultrasound may be used as well as laparoscopic techniques and biopsies. A CA125 (cancer antigen) blood test may be used to measure the amount of the specific protein ovarian cancer cells express(1). Unfortunately, there are no screening tests that can reliably detect ovarian cancer at its earliest and most curable stages(2).