Learn about what ovarian cancer is and how it’s treated.
Ovarian cancer is cancer that starts in or on one or both ovaries. In the early stages, women usually don’t have any symptoms. They’re often noticed at a later stage. But it’s important to know the possible symptoms, like:
- Feeling bloated
- Changes in bowel habits, like constipation
- Feeling uncomfortable in the pelvic area
- Having to pee often
- Feeling full after a small amount of food
- Stomach (abdominal) swelling
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Losing weight (without trying)
- Lower back pain that doesn’t go away
Other conditions can cause these symptoms, too. Having any of them does not mean you have ovarian cancer. See your doctor if you have any signs and symptoms that worry you.
Most of the time, the cause of ovarian cancer isn’t known. Ovarian cancer usually happens in women over 60 years old. But, it can happen any time.
Some women have a genetic risk for ovarian cancer. A test can check for this gene. So, talk to your doctor if you have a family history and review your risks
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
There is no one test that can tell for sure if you have ovarian cancer. Your health care team will do several tests to see if you might have ovarian cancer.
An ultrasound or computerized tomography (CT) scan can look at your ovaries to check for signs of cancer. Your health care team may also do a biopsy. This uses a needle to get a few cells from the ovary to see what kind of cells they are. Sometimes, your health care team will use a needle to draw fluid from your abdomen to see if there are cancer cells there. Your doctor may also order other tests like a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
Your health care team may have you get a blood test that looks for CA125.
This is a protein that the body may make a lot of if you have ovarian cancer. Other blood tests may look for specific biomarkers. This often helps your health care team make specific treatment plan for you.
How is ovarian cancer treated?
Treatment depends on the kind of ovarian cancer you have and what stage it is in.
- Stage 1: The cancer cells are only in your ovary, fallopian tube or the fluid in your abdomen.
- Stage 2: Cancer cells are also found in your uterus, bowel or bladder. It has spread.
- Stage 3: Cancer cells keep spreading and now can be found outside your pelvis area, like the peritoneum (layer that covers your organs).
- Stage 4: Cancer cells have spread to the organs like your lung, spleen or liver.
Treatment usually includes surgery and chemotherapy. Oftentimes, you may need both. Your doctor will decide on your treatment plan based on the cancer type and stage. For some patients, surgery and chemotherapy may not be the best plan. In that case, your doctor will focus on helping to manage your symptoms.
After the treatment, you may go into remission. This means that the treatment was successful, and the cancer can no longer be detected. As a precaution, your health care team may prescribe medications for you to take to help keep the cancer from coming back. This is called maintenance therapy.
Ovarian cancer may come back at some point. This is called recurrent cancer. Treatment for recurrent cancer depends on things like how well the treatments worked the first time, how far the cancer has spread and what side effects you had. You may need the same treatment or a different one. Your doctor may order medications that target cancer cells. Some women need more surgery, radiation or hormone therapy. Talk to your doctor about which treatment is best for you.
It’s important to get regular check-ups. Tell your doctor if you have any symptoms that worry you, like tiredness, sleeping problems or pain.
- A doctor may suspect an immune deficiency if infections are:
- Severe, requiring hospitalization or intravenous (IV) antibiotics
- Persistent, taking a long time to clear up
- Caused by a common organism that doesn’t often cause infections
- Recurrent (keep coming back)
- Common among family members
The doctor will take a detailed medical history, including information on infections, and conduct a physical exam. Laboratory tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis and confirm which specific condition the patient has. One type of immune deficiency, severe combined immune deficiency (SCID), can be diagnosed through a screening test in infants. Finding this disorder early enables lifesaving interventions to be started before the infant is exposed to viruses or bacteria. Many states routinely screen infants for SCID.
Immune deficiency is often treated through immunoglobulin replacement therapy. Immunoglobulin (Ig) refers to the part of the blood that contains antibodies. To create the products used in Ig replacement therapy, plasma (the clear component of blood) is collected from many individuals with normal immune systems. The immunoglobulins are extracted from the plasma and chemically purified.
Ig replacement therapy helps to replace the missing pieces of the immune system – it does not stimulate the patient’s immune system to start producing the proteins on its own. Therefore, people with immune deficiency are usually on Ig therapy for their entire lives. It is typically given intravenously (into a vein) every three to four weeks. Often, the infusion can be done in the patient’s home.
If you have questions about your condition or treatment, call your doctor or contact your CVS Specialty CareTeam.