Singapore Women's & Children's Medical Group

All About Ovarian Cancer: Types, Symptoms and Treatments

All About Ovarian Cancer Types, Symptoms, and Treatments
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What is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that originates in the ovaries, which are the female reproductive organs responsible for producing eggs. The ovaries consist of three main types of cells: epithelial cells on the outer surface, germ cells within the ovaries, and stromal cells that produce hormones. Cancerous cells can develop in any of these cell types, leading to different types of ovarian cancer. The most common type is epithelial ovarian cancer, accounting for about 90% of cases.

Types of Ovarian Cancer

  • Epithelial Ovarian Cancer
    This type of ovarian cancer arises from the epithelial cells, which are the outer surface cells of the ovaries. Epithelial ovarian cancer is further classified into several subtypes, including serous, mucinous, endometrioid, clear cell, and undifferentiated. Serous ovarian cancer is the most common subtype and tends to spread beyond the ovaries at an early stage.
  • Germ Cell Ovarian Cancer: Germ cell tumors originate from the cells that produce eggs. These tumors can be either benign or malignant. Malignant germ cell tumors include teratomas, dysgerminomas, endodermal sinus tumors, choriocarcinomas, and embryonal carcinomas. Germ cell tumors are more common in younger women and adolescents.
  • Stromal Cell Ovarian Cancer: Stromal cell tumors develop in the cells that produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. The two main types of stromal cell tumors are granulosa cell tumors and Sertoli-Leydig cell tumors. These types of ovarian cancer are often hormone-producing and can cause hormonal imbalances in the body.
  • Borderline Ovarian Tumors: Borderline ovarian tumors, also known as low malignant potential tumors, are a unique category of ovarian tumors. They have certain characteristics of cancer but tend to have a more favorable prognosis than invasive ovarian cancer. These tumors typically have slow growth and are more commonly diagnosed in younger women.

What Are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?

Detecting ovarian cancer early can be challenging since the symptoms are often non-specific and can be easily overlooked or mistaken for other conditions. However, being aware of the common symptoms can help in early detection.

Some of the key symptoms include: 

  • Persistent Abdominal Bloating or Swelling: Women may experience ongoing bloating or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen, which is not relieved by usual remedies.
  • Pelvic or Abdominal Pain: Persistent pain in the pelvis or abdomen, sometimes accompanied by pressure or discomfort, can be an indication of ovarian cancer.
  • Difficulty Eating or Feeling Full Quickly: Ovarian cancer can cause changes in appetite, leading to a decreased ability to eat normal-sized meals or feeling full even after eating small amounts.
  • Increased Urinary Urgency: An increased need to urinate frequently, accompanied by a sense of urgency, may be a symptom of ovarian cancer.
  • Changes in Bowel Habits: Ongoing changes in bowel movements, such as constipation or diarrhea, without any obvious cause should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
  • Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain: Significant and unexplained weight loss or gain may be an indicator of an underlying health issue, including ovarian cancer.
  • Fatigue or Unexplained Tiredness: Ovarian cancer can cause persistent fatigue or a general feeling of low energy, even after getting adequate rest. It is important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by various other conditions, but if they persist for an extended period, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation.

Treatments for Ovarian Cancer

The treatment of ovarian cancer depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, as well as the individual’s overall health. Common treatment options for ovarian cancer include:

  • Surgery: Surgery is the primary treatment for ovarian cancer. It typically involves the removal of the tumor, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and surrounding tissues. In more advanced cases and depends on the types of ovarian cancers, additional organs such as the uterus, omentum,  appendix, pelvic and para-aortic lymph nodes may need to be removed as part of the staging process. Occasionally, bowel resection is necessary to clear the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is part of treatment regime and is often recommended after surgery in advanced disease or certain subtypes of ovarian cancers. The aim of chemotherapy is to control or kill any remaining cancer cells. It involves the use of powerful drugs that target and kill cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy can be administered orally, intravenously, or directly into the abdominal cavity.
  • Targeted Therapy: Targeted therapies are medications that specifically target certain molecular abnormalities present in cancer cells, inhibiting their growth and spread. These therapies are designed to be more precise and cause fewer side effects compared to traditional chemotherapy.
  • Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other radiation sources to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. It is less commonly used in the treatment of ovarian cancer but may be recommended in certain cases.

The treatment plan for ovarian cancer is tailored to each patient’s specific needs and may involve a combination of these approaches.

It is important for women to be proactive about their health and seek medical attention if they experience any of the symptoms mentioned. Early detection and prompt treatment can significantly improve the prognosis and overall outcomes for those affected by ovarian cancer. Regular check-ups and communication with healthcare professionals are vital in managing and treating this disease effectively.

Reviewed by Dr Koh Cheng Huat on 02 August 2023.
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Dr Koh Cheng Huat
Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Gynae-Oncology

C.H. Koh Clinic For Women Pte Ltd
A wholly owned subsidiary of   Singapore Women’s & Children’s Medical Group
Blk 183 Toa Payoh Central
Singapore 310183
Tel: +65  62544022

Dr Koh Cheng Huat is our Executive Director and a member of SWCMG’s Medical Advisory Board. He is also an Obstetrics & Gynaecology specialist at C.H. Koh Clinic For Women, which he started in 1993. His sub-specialty is in gynae-oncology and he specialises in the surgical management of gynae-oncology, radical hysterectomy, debulking surgery in ovarian malignancy and video laparoscopy surgery for gynaecological cancers.

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