About Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is cancer of the ovaries, the two female reproductive glands located on either side of the uterus. The ovaries are composed of three distinct cell types: epithelial cells, germ cells and stromal cells.
Currently, ovarian cancer is the second most common type of gynecologic cancer. Because the symptoms of ovarian cancer are often overlooked or mistaken for common illnesses, this disease often goes undiagnosed until it progresses to more advanced stages. At that point, it is typically more widespread and more difficult to treat.
Malignant or cancerous tumors of the ovaries are comprised of three possible cell types: epithelial, germ or stromal cells.
- Epithelial cells cover the surface of the ovary and these tumors are the most common type of ovarian cancer (nine out of 10 cases).
- Germ cells are those cells that make up individual eggs. Ovarian germ cell tumors usually occur in teenage girls or young women and most often affect just one ovary. These tumors are rare, accounting for approximately 20 percent of ovarian cancers.
- Stromal cell malignancies are also uncommon. These are cells that produce female hormones estrogen and progesterone and are present in the supporting connective tissue of the ovary.
Ovarian cancer can invade, shed or spread to other organs.
- Invasion: A malignant ovarian tumor can grow and invade organs next to the ovaries, such as the fallopian tubes and uterus.
- Shedding: Cancer cells can shed (break off) from the main ovarian tumor. Shedding into the abdomen may lead to new tumors forming on the surface of nearby organs and tissues. The doctor may call these seeds or implants.
- Spread: Cancer cells can spread through the lymphatic system to lymph nodes in the pelvis, abdomen and chest. Cancer cells may also spread through the bloodstream to organs such as the liver and lungs.