Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. They produce estrogen and progesterone as well as ova, or the eggs that become fertilized to create life. Ovaries are small, close to the size of an almond, which is why they often are difficult to see in tests and imaging pictures.
Tumors are masses of cells that form abnormally in places that shouldn’t have extra growths, such as on your ovaries. Just because you have a tumor on your ovaries, however, does not necessarily mean that you have cancer. Ovarian tumors should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan close follow up with your gynecologist is necessary.
There are a number of ovarian tumors types. Benign ovarian tumors (those that are not cancerous) can include:
- Epithelial ovarian tumors that develop out of the cells covering the outer layer of tissue on the ovary. Of the several types of benign ovarian tumors, epithelial tumors usually do not lead to cancer. But when they do, they can be fatal.
- Germ Cell Tumors refer to the growths that develop out of the eggs you produce. These too are usually benign, although they can be deadly if left untreated.
- Ovarian low malignant potential tumors are made up of cells that also can be cancerous, but usually are benign. This type of tumor forms on the outside of one ovary. It may or may not spread to the other one.
- Ovarian fibroid tumors are really misnamed, because they are those growths that develop inside your uterus. Fibroid tumors usually grow rapidly and, though they mostly are benign, they can create significant pain, meaning they usually are detected faster than other, smaller ovarian tumors.
- Ovarian cyst tumors, instead of growths, are sacs that fill with fluid or air and stick onto or surrounding your ovaries. These often disappear on their own or form clusters leading to a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome. Cysts usually are benign too, although in rare cases, they can be malignant.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common form of cancer in women, affecting approximately 22,200 women in the U.S. each year, leading to more than 14,000 deaths. Following a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, there is about a 46 percent five-year survival rate, depending on your age and the stage of the cancer when found. Early detection makes it all the more vital that you maintain annual checkups that include tests to look for ovarian tumors.
Symptoms Aren’t Always Present
One of the biggest problems with ovarian tumors is that they don’t always cause you any pain or discomfort. Much too often, by the time any cancer in your reproductive organs is detected, it’s already spread. When a malignant tumor is confined to just your ovaries or your uterus, the chances of successfully removing it increase exponentially.
Another issue facing women that often precludes reporting symptoms is that women become accustomed to certain uncomfortable feelings, especially during menstruation. While there virtually are no symptoms in the earliest stages of ovarian cancer, growing ovarian tumors can mimic symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or constipation and all symptoms should be carefully evaluation by a physician.
Signs that an ovarian tumor may be malignant include:
- Frequent urination
- Unexplained weight loss
- Feeling full quickly when eating
- Swelling or bloating in the abdomen
- Irregular bowel movements
- Pelvic pain
While genetic mutations that cause ovarian cancer are rare, you may be at a higher risk if you have a family history of ovarian tumors or any other kind of cancer. Your risk of developing ovarian tumors that become cancerous can be related to:
- Smoking cigarettes
- Fertility treatments
- Hormone replacement therapy
- When you started and ended your periods — for example, if you start under the age of 12 or stop menstruating after the age of 52, you may be at a greater risk
- Using an IUD for birth control
- Never being pregnant
- Developing polycystic ovary syndrome
- Age — though ovarian tumors can strike anyone, the majority of women who develop malignant tumors are between the ages of 50 and 60
Still, the causes of most types of cancer are unclear. Cancer forms when some type of genetic mutation occurs in the cells of a tumor and causes them to break off and start moving through your body. It is then said that the cells have “metastasized” and turned to cancer.
The most common type of tumor to become malignant is the epithelial ovarian tumor, which is responsible for about 90 percent of ovarian cancer cases. Stromal tumors cause about seven percent of ovarian cancer. Meanwhile, germ cell ovarian tumors are more common among young women still developing.
Finding the Culprits
A pelvic exam is the front-line test used by gynecologists to look for tumors, cysts and other abnormalities in, on and around your ovaries and other reproductive organs. During your routine pelvic exam your doctor:
- Examines the exterior of your genitals, looking for signs of abnormalities
- Places two fingers in your vagina while pressing down on your abdomen at the same time to get a better feel of your ovaries and uterus
- A speculum then is inserted into your vagina that allows your doctor to spread the walls of your vagina and get a better look
- The doctor then collects a sample of tissue to do a Pap test
Unfortunately, the average pelvic exam and Pap test can’t catch early-stage tumors on your ovaries. Researchers still haven’t found a reliable test to detect ovarian cancer, nor do they have the tools to discern ovarian cancer from other forms of cancer. Still, concerned physicians do everything they can to see what’s going on with tests such as:
- CT scans
- Blood tests
Few Treatment Options
Treatment for ovarian cancer almost always involves removing your ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus. Lymph nodes near the pelvic area also may be removed for extra safeguarding against the spread of cancer. Even women who have benign ovarian tumors sometimes choose removal to lower their risk of getting cancer. Chemotherapy either precedes or follows the surgery to ensure the cancer doesn’t spread.
If cancerous ovarian tumors are caught early enough and treated appropriately, the odds of reaching a five-year survival rate increase drastically to 92 percent. You should always follow up carefully with your gynecologist for advice if you have ovarian tumors or any concerning symptoms.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide gynecology guidance, not a definitive medical advice. Please consult ob/gyn doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained, experienced board certified gynecologist or certified gynecology specialist can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
Do you have questions? Would like to schedule an appointment with the leading OBGYN specialist in Midtown NYC, Dr. Pedram Bral, please contact our office.
Dr. Pedram Bral, Gynecologist (Gynecologist NYC, Midtown)
New York, NY10010
(Between Madison Ave & Park Ave)
☎ (212) 533-4575