What is epithelial ovarian carcinoma?

Epithelial ovarian carcinoma is cancer that starts as a tumor on the outside of your ovary. Carcinomas, one of the main types of cancer, start from epithelial tissue which lines inner and outer parts of the body, in this case the ovaries.

There are different types of ovarian cancer, but 90% of ovarian tumors are epithelial.

Causes of epithelial ovarian carcinoma

Physicians are not sure what causes this disease. However, they know certain conditions (called risk factors) make it more likely for a woman to have this type of cancer.

Risk factors for epithelial ovarian carcinoma

Any woman that still has her ovaries can get epithelial ovarian carcinoma, but these things put you at a higher risk:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Being age 50 to 60
  • Never being pregnant
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Starting your period before age 12
  • Menopause after age 52
  • Estrogen hormone replacement therapy
  • Having a family member with ovarian cancer or Lynch syndrome
  • Having a family member with breast, rectal, colon or uterine cancer

Symptoms of epithelial ovarian carcinoma

These symptoms are sometimes warning signs:

  • Feeling bloated
  • Loss of appetite
  • Frequent urination
  • Constipation or gassiness
  • Feeling full without eating much
  • Pain or pressure in your abdomen
  • Having a lump, pain or pressure in your pelvic area
  • Bleeding from your vagina that is different from usual

These symptoms don't always mean cancer because they are very common in other conditions. If you have any of these symptoms for more than three weeks, it's best to see your doctor right away. Catching cancer early gives you a better chance of a cure and living a healthy life.

Diagnosis of epithelial ovarian carcinoma

There is not a reliable way to screen for ovarian cancer currently. This means your doctor cannot give you a test now and then — like a mammogram for breast cancer or a Pap test for cervical cancer — to find out if you have epithelial ovarian carcinoma. That's another reason it's so important to see your doctor if you have symptoms.

When you do have symptoms, your doctor will give you a physical exam. This will include feeling for any lumps in your abdomen or pelvic area. If they suspect ovarian cancer, they will order more testing, which can include:

  • Blood test to look for certain proteins that sometimes mean cancer
  • Ultrasound or x-ray to make an image that helps the doctor see any tumors on your ovaries
  • Surgery to test small bits of tissue for cancer and remove the tumor if it’s cancerous

Treatments for epithelial ovarian carcinoma

The type of treatment that's best for you depends on how healthy you are, how far along the ovarian cancer is and the kind of cancer cells found. Here are your three main options:

  • Surgery — your surgeon will try to remove as much of the cancer as possible, this might include removing part or all of your ovary and other parts of your reproductive system.
  • Chemotherapy — this treatment uses strong drugs to kill the cancer cells; it's possible that you may have chemotherapy if surgery can't get rid of all of the cancer or if it isn’t an option.
  • Targeted therapy — drugs or other agents attack the epithelial ovarian carcinoma cells but don't harm your healthy cells.

Recovery from epithelial ovarian carcinoma

You may experience side effects from treatment, which can include nausea, hair loss and bleeding or bruising easily. Your doctor will have strategies to help you feel better. Make sure you have the emotional support you need too, from your family, friends or others who care about you.

If your surgery required removing your uterus, ovaries or fallopian tubes, you won’t be able to get pregnant and may want support in overcoming this change. Also, cancer can come back after your doctor removes it. Be sure to see your doctor regularly and watch out for the symptoms.

Find an ovarian cancer specialist nearby

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