Women’s Health

Causes, risk factors and diagnosis of ovarian cancer

The ovaries in the female reproductive system are responsible for producing eggs, estrogen, and progesterone hormones. Ovarian cancer is a condition in which the cancer cells develop and multiply rapidly out of control spreading to nearby organs.

There is no known cause of ovarian cancer. However, there are multiple risk factors that increase the risk of abnormal cell growth. It starts in the tail end of the fallopian tubes and spreads gradually to surrounding areas making it quite difficult to detect during the initial stages of the condition.

Research states that changes in the basic DNA structure of normal cells can result in the tumor or cancer developing out of control. Note that the mutations are not necessarily passed down from the previous generation despite popular belief. Although the cause of such acquired mutations remains unknown, exposure to radiation and cancer-causing chemicals increase the risk of a developing condition.

Other common risk factors include the following:

  • Age
    Women above the age of 40 are at a higher chance of developing ovarian cancer and statistics show that half the cases of ovarian cancer are detected in women above the age of 60.
  • Obesity
    Obesity is the number one health condition in the country that increases the risk of developing ovarian cancer. An unfavorable body mass index of 30 affects both the survival rate after detection of ovarian cancer and increases the risk of mutation.
  • Pregnancy
    Women who plan to have children at a later stage of their lives or decide to not have children are also at high risk of developing ovarian cancer in their late 30s.
  • Fertility treatment
    Women who have problems conceiving naturally often opt for fertility treatments and In-Vitro Fertilization is one of the popular options for getting pregnant. However, fertility treatments and drugs can result in borderline or low malignant potential ovarian cancer.
  • Hormone therapy
    Women experiencing menopause resort to hormone therapy. However, it can result in an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone levels in the body. Chemical imbalances also increase the risk of suffering from the genetic mutation resulting in rapid multiplication of healthy cells.

Diagnosis of ovarian cancer
The early detection of ovarian cancer in women is unfortunately limited to just 20% of the total cases. Early detection gives the patient an approximate 94% chance for five-year survival. The most common diagnostic procedures to detect a developing condition include the following:

  • Health check-up
    A pelvic exam helps the doctor physically check for the first signs of a developing of ovarian cancer. The doctor will feel the ovaries and uterus for changes in size, shape, and consistency making a pelvic exam one of the more preferred modes of diagnosis for cancer to detect one early.
  • Screening tests
    The doctor will also recommend a series of screening tests including a Transvaginal Ultrasound (TVUS) and a CA-125 blood test. The TVUS diagnostic procedure uses sound waves to detect abnormalities in the mass of the ovaries whereas the CA-125 blood test measures the amount of protein. High protein levels of the CA-125 may indicate a developing ovarian cancer condition.