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At Boston Medical Center (BMC), the care of patients with ovarian cancer is a collaborative, multidisciplinary process. BMC’s Cancer Care Center organizes its services around each patient, bringing together the expertise of diverse specialists to manage care from the first consultation through treatment and follow-up visits. The Cancer Care Center is dedicated to providing treatment that is effective and innovative in curing and controlling cancer, while managing its impact on quality of life.

As the primary teaching affiliate of the Boston University School of Medicine, BMC combines personal, patient-focused care with the state-of-the-art-expertise and technological advances of a major teaching hospital. BMC is at the forefront of clinical practice, surgical expertise, and research in oncology.

In addition to ovarian cancer, BMC’s gynecologic oncologists have expertise in treating many types of female pelvic cancers, including cancers of the uterus, cervix, vulva, and trophoblast (placenta). Patients with a diagnosis or strong suspicion of cancer are given appointments within 72 hours.

What Is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the ovaries. The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system. They are located on either side of the uterus in the pelvic region of the body. The ovaries produce eggs (called ova) and are the primary source of several female hormones.

There are three main types of malignant (cancerous) ovarian tumors:

  • Epithelial (surface) cell tumors begin in the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovary. They are the most common type of ovarian tumor.
  • Germ cell tumors begin in the cells that form the eggs (ova) and are fairly rare.
  • Stromal cell tumors begin in the cells that help keep the ovary together and produce the female hormones. This type of tumor is also rare.

Many ovarian tumors are benign (noncancerous) and never spread beyond the ovary. The cancerous tumors are more dangerous because they can spread to other parts of the body.

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague and non-specific. However, women with ovarian cancer often report signs and symptoms that include

  • Abdominal bloating or swelling
  • Feeling full
  • Constipation
  • Frequent urination
  • Pelvic pain
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Shortness of breath from fluid build-up around the lungs

Patients with concerns about any of the signs and symptoms listed above are urged to consult their physician immediately.

Causes of Ovarian Cancer

Although the exact causes of ovarian cancer remain unknown, certain risk factors—things that increase an individual's chances of developing a cancer—have been identified. While risk factors may be useful in identifying high-risk individuals, they do not determine whether an individual develops a disease. Some risk factors, such as diet, are within an individual’s control, while others, such as age, are not.

Some risk factors for ovarian cancer include

  • Age: Older women have a greater risk of developing ovarian cancer. Most women who develop ovarian cancer are over age 50.
  • Family history: If women have immediate family members with ovarian cancer, they have an increased risk of the disease. Family histories of breast and colon cancers can also increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Genetic syndromes: There are several inherited gene mutations (changes to a cell’s genetic makeup) that may increase a woman’s chances of developing ovarian cancer. For example, mutations in either the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 genes increase your risk for both ovarian and breast cancers and can be passed on through generations. View more information on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes here.
  • Obesity: Women who are obese have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Having children: Women who have given birth have a decreased risk of developing ovarian cancer. A woman’s risk continues to drop with each additional full-term pregnancy.

Currently, there are no screening procedures in place to detect ovarian cancer. However, patients with a strong family history of ovarian or breast cancer may be eligible for genetic counseling. For more information, patients can visit Genetic Counseling or talk to their physician to request a referral.

References

American Cancer Society. 2015. Detailed Guide: Ovarian Cancer. PDF. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003130-pdf.pdf

Society of Gynecologic Oncology. 2014. FIGO Ovarian Cancer Staging. PDF. https://www.sgo.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/FIGO-Ovarian-Cancer-Staging_1.10.14.pdf

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