The female reproductive system contains two ovaries on each side of the uterus. The ovaries are where eggs are developed. Ovarian cancer occurs when malignant cell growth affects parts of the ovaries.
There are different types of ovarian cancer classified by the type of cell from which it originates:
In Singapore, ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer among women. Although it usually occurs in post-menopausal women over the age of 50, ovarian cancer can occur in younger women.
Epithelial ovarian cancer usually affects older women, while germ cell ovarian cancer tends to occur more frequently in younger women.
Early-stage ovarian cancer may not cause any noticeable symptoms. Symptoms are usually attributed to other more common conditions and may only be noticed when the cancerous tumour has become quite large.
Some of the symptoms include:
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.
There is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, but the following factors may reduce risk:
As some of the above measures involve surgery and may carry serious risks or side effects, they cannot be recommended for every woman. It is best to discuss appropriate ways to reduce your individual risk of ovarian cancer with your doctor.
The causes of ovarian cancer are not clear, but there are some known risk factors.
You may be advised to go for further tests depending on your symptoms and the results of your initial tests.
Treatment of ovarian cancer usually involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Other treatments such as radiotherapy and target therapy may also be used in certain situations.
An individual with cancer should be assessed by a specialist to determine which modality of treatment is best suited for them.
To determine the actual extent of the cancer, surgical exploration or staging is required. During the procedure, the doctor will examine the peritoneum, which is the inner lining of the abdomen. Fluid within the abdomen will be sent for assessment.
In addition to determining the stage of the cancer, the aim of surgery is to remove as much of the cancer as possible. This may include removing of ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus and surrounding lymph nodes.
Additional treatment following surgery will be determined by the stage of the disease, the grade (aggressiveness) of the disease and the subtype of cancer.
For very early-stage disease and non-aggressive types of cancers, further treatment may not be required. But if the cancer is more advanced and aggressive, chemotherapy is the treatment of choice.
Some patients with advanced epithelial ovarian cancer may be given pre-operative chemotherapy to shrink or control the cancer before surgery.
There are new targeted drugs which can be used to treat selected cases of epithelial ovarian cancer, including drugs that are administered by drip such as Bevacizumab and oral Olaparib.
Your surgeon will perform a comprehensive medical work-up including blood tests and scans to see if you are suitable for surgery and advise you on the risks involved. This treatment recommendation is often based on consensus by a group of different specialists' opinions (tumour board) which weighs the pros and cons of every treatment strategy.
Before surgery, the anaesthesia team will also assess your fitness for surgery and advise you on various aspects of general anaesthesia and pain control after surgery.
Specialist nurses will also provide pre-surgery counselling.
After recovering from surgery, you will be given regular outpatient appointments to see your team of doctors. These visits may include blood tests and scans to monitor and check if the cancer recurs.
It is important to follow your doctor's advice, keep to scheduled clinic visits and do the prescribed tests so that timely treatment can be administered if the cancer or other problems arise.