Ovarian cancer begins in the cells of the ovary, however, ongoing research tells us that, in
many cases, it may also develop in the fallopian tubes. The ovaries are two almond-shaped organs that are attached to the
uterus and lie close to the opening of the fallopian tubes.
Ovaries produce eggs once each month along with female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecologic cancer in women. As in uterine/endometrial cancer, there are many different types of ovarian cancer and treatment for each varies.
Ovarian cancer is treated by a team of experts, usually at a cancer centre, who use different forms of treatment to manage the cancer. These may include chemotherapy and surgery. Depending on the stage and location of the disease some patients will start treatment with the surgery and other patients will start treatment with chemotherapy.
Your family doctor or gynecologist will make a referral for you if an ovarian cancer is suspected. The cancer centre will then set up an appointment for you. You may see a Gynecologic Oncologist (a specialist in gynecological surgery and chemotherapy/hormone therapy), a Medical Oncologist (a specialist in chemotherapy and hormone treatment) or a Radiation Oncologist (a specialist in radiation therapy).
The oncologist you see will review your case and will go over the best treatment plan for your situation. This appointment may be overwhelming, so it is best to bring someone with you for support.
Diagnosing Ovarian Cancer
When ovarian cancer is suspected, you will be referred to the cancer centre for assessment by a Medical Oncologist or a Gynecologic Oncologist. If there is a large amount of fluid in your abdomen, fluid may be removed and sent for analysis by pathology to determine if any cancer cells can be detected. If the fluid is found to contain cancer cells, sometimes chemotherapy is started to help decrease the fluid amount and help shrink the tumour. Surgery is then planned after a few cycles of chemotherapy.
Sometimes, a mass may be present without any fluid that can be removed for analysis. A biopsy of a suspicious mass is usually not recommended; in such cases, surgery is performed to remove it intact and sent to pathology for final analysis.
There are different ways to approach surgery for ovarian cancer. They may include:
Other Treatment Options
The primary treatment of ovarian cancer consists of surgery and chemotherapy, not necessarily in that order.
Radiation therapy is not typically used as first line treatment for ovarian cancer. Sometimes if an isolated area requires treatment, radiation may be indicated. Your physician will review with you if radiation is indicated as treatment for your tumour.
Canadian Cancer Society
Call or go online to look for:
• Ovarian Cancer: Understanding your diagnosis
• Eating well when you have cancer
• Chemotherapy and other drug therapies: A guide for people with cancer
• Radiation Therapy: A guide for people with cancer
• When someone you know has cancer: How you can help
Ovarian Cancer Canada
This organization offers information, education and support including “By Your Side”, a guide for women living with ovarian cancer.