What do I need to know about ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer may occur in one or both of your ovaries. The ovaries are a pair of small, almond-sized organs in the lower abdomen. Ovaries produce eggs and hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are important in helping the body work correctly.
What increases my risk for ovarian cancer?
The cause of ovarian cancer is not known. The following may increase your risk:
- You have no children, or you had your first child after you were 30 years old.
- You, your mother, sister, or daughter had ovarian, breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer.
What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?
- Abdominal fullness, bloating, or swelling
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Changes in your menstrual cycle, including abnormal bleeding
- Abdominal or low back pain
- A need to urinate frequently
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
Your caregiver will examine you. He may do a pelvic exam and check for other problems that could be causing your symptoms. You may also need any of the following:
- Blood tests: You may need a blood test that measures the level of a chemical called CA-125. A higher level than normal may mean you have ovarian cancer.
- Pelvic ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures on a monitor. An ultrasound may be done to look at your ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, liver, or other organs.
- CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your abdomen, including your ovaries. The pictures may show the location of the tumor. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
How is ovarian cancer treated?
Ovarian cancer is treated depending on the size of the tumor and stage of the cancer. You may need more than one of the following treatments:
- Surgery: This may be done to remove one or both of your ovaries.
- Chemotherapy: These medicines are used to kill cancer cells.
- Radiation: X-rays or gamma rays are used to kill cancer cells and to shrink the tumor or tumors.
What are the risks of ovarian cancer?
You may bleed more than expected or get an infection after surgery. You may get a blood clot in your arm or leg. The clot may travel to your heart or brain and cause life-threatening problems, such as a heart attack or stroke. Even with treatment, your cancer may spread or return. If ovarian cancer is not treated, it may spread to other parts of your body, such as your liver or lungs. Cancer that spreads may prevent other organs from working as they should.
How can I manage my symptoms?
- Weigh yourself daily: Weigh yourself in the morning before breakfast. Weight gain can be a sign of extra fluid in your body. Call your caregiver if you gain at least 2 pounds in a day.
- Rest as needed: Return to your regular activities slowly and do more as you feel stronger. Tell your caregiver if you are not able to sleep.
- Drink liquids as directed: Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Drink extra liquids to prevent dehydration. You will also need to replace fluid if you are vomiting or have diarrhea from cancer treatments.
- Eat enough protein and calories: Foods may taste different during cancer treatment. You may not feel like eating, and you may lose weight. Eat a variety of health foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Eat small meals every 2 to 3 hours. Ask a dietitian for more information about the best eating plan for you.
- Exercise: Ask about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise may improve your energy levels and appetite.
Where can I find support and more information?
- American Cancer Society
250 Williams Street
Atlanta , GA 30303
Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
Web Address: http://www.cancer.org
- National Cancer Institute
6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 300
Bethesda , MD 20892-8322
Phone: 1- 800 - 422-6237
Web Address: http://www.cancer.gov
When should I contact my caregiver?
Contact your caregiver if:
- You have a fever.
- Your pain is worse or does not go away after you take your pain medicine.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
When should I seek immediate care?
Seek care immediately or call 911 if:
- You vomit multiple times and cannot keep any food or liquids down.
- Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
- You suddenly feel lightheaded and short of breath.
- You have chest pain when you take a deep breath or cough. You may cough up blood.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.